P>The homoploid hybrid species Pinus densata is restricted to alpine habitats that exceed the altitude range of its two parental species, Pinus tabulaeformis and Pinus yunnanensis. Alpine habitats usually generate cold-induced water stress in plants. To understand the ecological differentiation between these three species, we examined their physiological responses to drought stress.
Potted seedlings of three species were subjected to low, mild, moderate and severe water stress in an automatic-controlled glasshouse. Fifteen indicators of fitness were measured for each species in each treatment, and most of these decreased as drought increased.
Pinus densata exhibited higher fitness than both parental species in terms of total dry mass production (TDM) and long-term water use efficiency (WUEL) across all treatments; several other ecophysiological traits were also extreme but not across every treatment, and not always in the highest stress treatment.
These results indicate that extreme characters that have become well fixed in P. densata, confer a faster seedling growth rate and more efficient water use, which in turn should confer increased drought tolerance. These traits of P. densata likely promoted its ecological separation from its parental species and facilitated its successful colonization and establishment in high-altitude habitats.
- ecological differentiation
- homoploid hybrid speciation
- physiological fitness
- pinus densata