The evergreen oak Quercus turbinella and the deciduous Q. gambelii form natural hybrids in southwestern Utah and northern Arizona. Hybrid individuals also are found in northern Utah in a region where only Q. gambelii currently exists, indicating that Q. turbinella has recently retreated southward. Our objectives were to (1) examine the ecophysiology of parental taxa and hybrids under natural conditions in southeastern Utah, and (2) investigate the level of integration between leaf carbon isotope discrimination (a synthetic gas exchange trait) and structural and chemical traits of leaves in morphologically variable hybrid populations. Leaf length, width, mass-to-area ratio (LMA, g m−2), and nitrogen concentration (N, g g−1) within 2 hybrid populations near New Harmony, Utah, were highly intercorrelated. Variation within the hybrid populations spanned mean values for these traits observed in parental taxa from adjacent "pure" populations of each species. Carbon isotope discrimination (Δ), an integrated measure of the ratio of intercellular to ambient CO2 concentration, ranged from 16.1‰ to 19.6‰ within the 2 hybrid populations and was positively correlated with leaf nitrogen concentration and negatively correlated with LMA; individuals in hybrid populations with leaves resembling Q. gambelii had the highest leaf Δ and N concentrations and lowest LMA compared with leaves from plants that resembled Q. turbinella. CO2 uptake is limited by stomatal conductance and possibly by mesophyll resistance to a greater extent in Q. turbinella phenotypes than in intermediate or Q. gambelii phenotypes. δD of stem xylem water (an indication of active rooting depth) and predawn water potential during the peak monsoon period in August were not correlated to leaf Δ values within the hybrid populations. Several individuals that were morphologically similar to Q. turbinella in the hybrid populations maintained high predawn water potentials and derived moisture from winter recharge that presumably was taken from deep soil layers. Apparently, a few adult individuals of the Q. turbinella phenotype in hybrid populations accessed water from deep in the soil profile, which enabled them to avoid summer drought. Reduced monsoonal activity may have been an important, but not the single, determinant of Q. turbinella's retreat from northern Utah during the recent Holocene.
Williams, David G. and Ehleringer, James R.
"Carbon isotope discrimination and water relations of oak hybrid populations in southwestern Utah,"
Western North American Naturalist: Vol. 60:
2, Article 2.
Available at: https://scholarsarchive.byu.edu/wnan/vol60/iss2/2