Growth parameters and resistance to Sphaerulina musiva-induced canker are more important than wood density for increasing genetic gain from selection of Populus spp. hybrids for northern climates.
Context: Productivity, wood density, and disease resistance of hybrid poplar clones are important traits when selecting for cultivation at an industrial scale. Aims: We studied 1978 hybrid poplar clones from 63 families, bred from poplars native (Populus balsamifera and Populus deltoides) and non-native to Canada from the Aigeiros and Tacamahaca sections, to improve economically important traits for plantations in northern Alberta. Methods: Genetic parameters for diameter at breast height (DBH), height, resistance to Sphaerulina musiva-induced canker, and wood density were determined up to age 10. Results: A mean annual increment of 16.5 m3 ha-1 year-1 was achieved at age 10 in the best-performing clones. The potential genetic gain for DBH, height, and canker resistance, 37%, 26%, and ~13%, respectively, was achieved when selecting the top 10%of the tested clones. The genetic effect for wood density was weak. The age-age genetic correlations identified age eight as a reliable selection age. Conclusion: The new hybrid poplar clones tested exhibited great potential for tree improvement. The next phase of selection should test a reduced number of clones on different site types, identifying stable clones for productivity and resistance, while wood density can be selected for secondarily. In northern regions, a minimum age of 8 years is reliable to select fast-growing resistant clones for commercial deployment.