School of Biological Sciences | College of science
ILLUMINATING HOW GENETICS AND ENVIRONMENT INFLUENCE ASPEN DROUGHT TOLERANCE AND RESPONSE TO CLIMATE CHANGE
William Anderegg, Assistant Professor
The future of western US forests in a rapidly changing climate hinges around how trees can survive climate stress, like drought. This research project aims to determine how aspen genetics (genotype) or environment (phenotype) influence drought tolerance in southwestern US aspen forests. Since droughts are expected to increase in frequency and severity for these forests under climate change, it is critical to understand which aspen trees will best survive future drought events. Aspen is a widely distributed tree species across North America and is composed of numerous locally-adapted populations. We will investigate this local drought adaptation by determining if an aspen population’s drought tolerance is due to its genetics or its environment. If the same level of drought tolerance exists in the population under a different environment, then drought tolerance is due to the genetics of the population. We will determine if the drought tolerance of aspen trees from natural populations across the Intermountain West US is due to genetics or environment. In 2019, aspen were propagated from roots collections from 5 natural populations in Utah and Colorado. In 2020, the propagules were planted into an experimental garden on the University of Utah campus. In spring/summer 2021, the common garden will undergo a drought treatment, and physiological and morphological traits relevant to drought tolerance (i.e. leaf size, water conductivity through the wood tissue, photosynthesis, etc.) will be measured. This research project will consist of both garden and laboratory components to collect, process and analyze samples, and measure various morphological and physiological traits on the aspen trees.