Australian Journal of Botany Australian Journal of Botany Society
Southern hemisphere botanical ecosystems
RESEARCH ARTICLE

Ecotypic differentiation of mid-Atlantic Quercus species in response to ultramafic soils

Jerry Burgess A E , Katalin Szlavecz A , Nishanta Rajakaruna B C and Christopher Swan D
+ Author Affiliations
- Author Affiliations

A Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, MD 21218, USA.

B College of the Atlantic, 105 Eden Street, Bar Harbor, ME 04609, USA.

C Unit for Environmental Sciences and Management, North-West University, Private Bag X6001, Potchefstroom, 2520, South Africa.

D Department of Geography & Environmental Systems, University of Maryland, Baltimore County, Baltimore, MD 21250, USA.

E Corresponding author. Email: jerry.burgess@jhu.edu

Australian Journal of Botany 63(4) 308-323 https://doi.org/10.1071/BT14274
Submitted: 16 October 2014  Accepted: 24 March 2015   Published: 8 May 2015

Abstract

Spatial heterogeneity of soil conditions combined with intraspecific variation confer site-specific edaphic tolerance, resulting in local adaptation and speciation. To understand the geoecological processes controlling community assembly of woodland tree species on serpentine and mafic soils, we investigated resource gradients and provenance (geographic area of propagule collection) as variables affecting typical representative upland oak (Quercus) species distribution. Accordingly, we conducted a year-long reciprocal transplant experiment in the greenhouse with serpentine and mafic soils, using seedlings of five oak species (Quercus marilandica, Q. stellata, Q. montana, Q. michauxii and Q. alba). All seedlings, regardless of provenance or soil depth, displayed more robust growth in the mafic soils. Soil depth was an important determinant, with all species exhibiting increased growth in the deeper-soil treatments. Fitness surrogates such as stem height, relative growth rate, and leaves per plant were greater when seedlings were grown in their home soil than when they were grown in the non-resident soil, suggesting an ecotypic effect. Mean stomatal conductance and stem growth were positively correlated with soil depth in all treatments. Taken together, the study showed provenance-specific growth responses of oak seedlings to soil type and depth, providing a better understanding of the mechanisms controlling species assembly in woodland communities.

Additional keywords: edaphic, intra-specific variation, local adaptation, reciprocal transplant, seedling growth, serpentine.


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