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Planting Density Affects Growth And Water-use Efficiency Depending On Site In Populus Deltoides × P. Nigra

Julien Toillon, Régis Fichot, Régis Fichot, Erwin Dallé, Erwin Dallé, Alain Berthelot, F. Brignolas, F. Brignolas, N. Marron, N. Marron
Published 2013 · Biology

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Abstract Poplar coppice plantations for biomass production can be conducted under either short rotation coppice (SRC) or short rotation forestry (SRF) systems, depending on planting density and rotation length. It is likely that differences in planting density affect tree physiology through competition for resource acquisition, including light, water and nutrients. In this paper, we hypothesized that the effects of planting density on growth and water-use efficiency (assessed through bulk leaf carbon isotope discrimination, Δ 13 C) in poplar depend on site characteristics in terms of soil fertility and water availability. To test this hypothesis, 56 Populus deltoides  ×  P. nigra genotypes were planted under both SRC and SRF and replicated at two sites differing for pedoclimatic conditions. At the most favorable site for growth, trees grown at the higher density (SRC) displayed higher stem height, lower stem circumference, higher specific leaf area, higher mass-based leaf nitrogen contents and higher Δ 13 C, indicating that increased tree density mainly accentuated competition for light. Under less favorable conditions, trees grown under SRC still displayed lower stem circumference, higher specific leaf area and higher mass-based leaf nitrogen contents. However, stem height remained unaffected by increasing planting density while Δ 13 C was lower, likely because of increased competition for water availability. Genotypic rankings across planting densities were overall conserved while they were significantly modified across sites, suggesting that rankings for genotypic performances were much less affected by planting density than by site. Realized growth measured after 2 years (height and circumference) was weakly correlated with Δ 13 C, but a negative relationship between Δ 13 C and growing season leaf increment rate was observed in most cases. The absence of trade-off between growth and water-use efficiency combined with the large genotypic variations observed for these traits confirms the potential for selecting genotypes with high water-use efficiency without counter-selecting on biomass production in P. deltoides  ×  P. nigra .
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