University of Helsinki, Helsinki 2006
Reproduction and population structure in European aspen
Doctoral dissertation, March 2006.
The European aspen (Populus tremula) is a keystone species for biodiversity in boreal forests. However, the future of aspen may be threatened, because large aspens have mostly been removed from managed forests, whereas regeneration and the long-term persistence of mature trees are subjects of concern in protected areas. Aspen is a pioneer tree, and it can reproduce both sexually by seed and asexually by root suckers. Through asexual reproduction aspen forms clones, groups of genetically identical trees (ramets).
In my thesis, I have studied the structure of aspen populations in terms of number, size, clonal and demographic properties. Additionally, I have investigated the emergence and survival of seedlings as well as the seed quantity and quality in crosses between the European and hybrid aspen. To study the regeneration and population structure, mature aspens were recorded in old-growth and managed forests in eastern Finland based on a large-scale inventory (11 400 ha). In addition, small aspen trees were surveyed on sample plots. Clonal structure was investigated both by morphological characters and by DNA-based markers (microsatellites). Seedling emergence and survival was studied with two sowing experiments. With crosses between European and hybrid aspens we wanted to study whether elevated temperatures due to climate change would benefit the different crosses of European and hybrid aspen unequally and thus affect the gene flow between the two species.
The average volumes of mature aspen were 5.3 m3/ha in continuous old-growth, and 0.8 m3/ha in managed forests. Results indicate also that large aspen trees in managed forests are a legacy of the past less intensively managed forest landscapes. Long-term persistence of aspen in protected areas can only be secured by restoration measures creating sufficiently large gaps for regeneration. More emphasis should be given to sparing aspens in thinnings and to retaining of mature aspens in regeneration cutting in managed forests.
Aspen was found to be spatially aggregated in the landscape. This could be explained by site type, disturbance history and / or limitations in seed dispersal. Clonal structure does not explain the spatial aggregation, since average size of the clones was only 2.3 ramets, and most clones (70 %) consisted of just one ramet. The small size of the clones suggests that most of them are relatively young. Therefore, sexual reproduction may be more common than has previously been thought.
Seedling emergence was most successful in mineral soil especially, when the site had been burned. Only few seedlings occurred on humus. Survival of the seedlings was low, and strongly dependent on moisture, but also on seedbed conditions. The seeds were found to maintain their germinability longer than has earlier been thought to be possible.
Interspecific crosses produced more seeds with higher quality than intraspecific crosses. When temperature was elevated, germination of hybrid aspen seeds increased more than seeds from P. tremula x P. tremula crosses. These results suggest that hybrid aspen may have a significant genetic impact on the European aspen, and this effect may become strengthened by climate warming.
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© University of Helsinki 2006
Last updated 22.03.2006