Growth, survival, and genetic variability of Austrian pine (Pinus nigra Arnold) seedlings in response to water deficit.
Drought is one of the crucial factors limiting plant growth and is expected to become even more limiting in many regions as the effects of climate change increase. Knowledge of genetic adaptation to environmental factors can help develop strategies for successful reforestation in arid terrain. In this study, Austrian pine (Pinus nigra Arnold) seedlings grown from seed collected from 40 open-pollinated families from five Balkan Peninsula provenances were evaluated for survival and growth under imposed drought. Within each provenance, seed was collected from an extremely harsh habitat and from a favorable habitat. One-year-old seedlings, from each provenance, habitat type and open pollinated family were transplanted into three "stressbeds", each designed to simulate different levels of water availability by filling with varying ratios of crushed stone and soil. Seedling height growth and survival were recorded every 20-30 days from April-September. In all provenances, seedlings grown from seed originating from the harsh habitats had lower survival regardless of stressbed treatment compared to those grown from seed collected from favorable habitats, with the exception of one population from the Višegrad provenance which had high survival rates throughout. Overall height growth was very low and did not follow consistent patterns among treatment groups. Cluster analyses of survival data showed that populations from a similar habitat generally grouped together, regardless of provenance. The lowest and highest survival values were found in seedlings from harsh habitats, while those from the favorable habitats clustered in the mid-range. These results suggest that higher seed quality from productive stands may be the most influential factor determining seedling vigor under drought stress and that genetic adaptation to drought was not detected in adjacent populations having different habitat conditions.