Leaf morphological variation among paper birch (Betula papyrifera Marsh.) genotypes across Canada


Variations in leaf morphological characteristics have been extensively studied at both interand intraspecific levels although not explicitly on paper birch (Betula papyrifera Marsh). Paper birch populations might have considerable genotypic and leaf morphological variations that have allowed them to inhabit wide environmental gradients. In this study, we analyzed variations in leaf morphological characteristics in 23 paper birch populations collected across Canada and grown in a greenhouse. Furthermore, we examined whether the variations in leaf morphological characteristics observed were related to the climate of the population’s origin. We found significant genotypic differences in all leaf morphological characteristics (p < 0.05) measured among the birch populations. Thus, we expected that the morphological variations in birch might be related to natural diversity in birch populations due to environmental differences at habitat origin. Principal component analysis (PCA) reduced thirteen leaf morphological variables to five principal components (PC) explaining 84.74% of the total variance in the original data. PCs accumulated with specific leaf area, petiole and leaf width were positively related to latitudinal, longitudinal, and elevational gradients at the population’s origin. Unpredictably, these PCs were significantly negatively correlated to precipitation and aridity index at the origin. Thus, we analyzed if correlations within leaf morphological characteristics had supported the birch populations to acclimate and produce unpredictable relations with the environment of origin. Our results showed that the populations originated in limited precipitation (during growing season) had large leaf width and petiole size but low leaf hairs on adaxial surface. Thus, all these leaf morphological features provide a basis for the birch to reduce water loss from leaves and balance water use efficiency in reduced precipitation. Furthermore, the leaf characteristics measured may also include phenotypic plasticity of the birch as an acclimation to the environment as in the greenhouse.

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Pyakurel, A. and Wang, J. (2013) Leaf morphological variation among paper birch (Betula papyrifera Marsh.) genotypes across Canada. Open Journal of Ecology, 3, 284-295. doi: 10.4236/oje.2013.34033.

Conflicts of Interest

The authors declare no conflicts of interest.


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