Recent and historical water use strategies of western U.S. conifers

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Montana State University - Bozeman, College of Letters & Science


Understanding the physiological traits that trees utilize to manage water use can reveal important insights into how and why they occur in their realized habitat. Among the tools to investigate these traits include measuring trees' seasonal water status, deciphering trees' rooting depth, and measuring the trees' vulnerability to cavitation. However, it is equally important to understand how complex landscape heterogeneity will affect both the inter- and intraspecific variation of these physiological traits. This thesis seeks to quantify the variation of the physiological traits used to manage water status among three common Rocky Mountain conifers; Pseudotsuga menziesii (a plastic species occurring across xeric and mesic sites), Pinus ponderosa (a xeric species), and Picea engelmannii (a mesic species), occurring across an elevation gradient. Furthermore, it aims to link tree maintenance of water status to source water, and understand how the importance of source water is reflected in the tree ring record. In the first chapter, I sought to quantify inter- and intraspecific variation of these three species by measuring diurnal and seasonal water status, seasonal water use, and xylem vulnerability to cavitation at a low elevation xeric site, composed of P. ponderosa and P. menziesii, and a high elevation mesic site, composed of P. engelmannii and P. menziesii. We found good evidence for interspecific variation in the physiological traits to manage water status at both sites. However, we did not find strong evidence for intraspecific variation in these same traits within our plastic species (P. menziesii). In the second chapter, we investigated how stable isotopes in tree rings reflected seasonal source water use as well as the atmospheric conditions the trees were growing under. At the low elevation site, we found evidence that the tree ring isotopes were likely reflecting both seasonal precipitation inputs as well as the atmospheric growing conditions. At the high elevation site, trees likely only reflected the atmospheric growing conditions and did not reflect seasonal water use.




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