Plant populations may adapt to environmental conditions over time by developing genetically based morphological or physiological characteristics. For tidal freshwater forested wetlands, we hypothesized that the conditions under which trees developed led to ecotypic difference in response of progeny to hydroperiod. Specifically, we looked for evidence of ecotypic adaptation for tidal flooding at different salinity regimes using growth and ecophysiological characteristics of two tidal and two non-tidal source collections of baldcypress (Taxodium distichum (L.) L.C. Rich) from the southeastern United States. Saplings were subjected to treatments of hydrology (permanent versus tidal flooding) and salinity (0 versus ???2 g l-1) for two and a half growing seasons in a greenhouse environment. Saplings from tidal sources maintained 21-41% lower overall growth and biomass accumulation than saplings from non-tidal sources, while saplings from non-tidal sources maintained 14-19% lower overall rates of net photosynthetic assimilation, leaf transpiration, and stomatal conductance than saplings from tidal sources. However, we found no evidence for growth or physiological enhancement of saplings from tidal sources to tide, or of saplings from non-tidal sources to no tide. All saplings growing under permanent flooding exhibited reduced growth and leaf gas exchange regardless of source, with little evidence for consistent salinity effects across hydroperiods. While we reject our original hypothesis, we suggest that adaptations of coastal baldcypress to broad (rather than narrow) environmental conditions may promote ecophysiological and growth enhancements under a range of global-change-induced stressors, perhaps reflecting a natural resilience to environmental change while precluding adaptations for specific flood regimes.
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Is there evidence of adaptation to tidal flooding in saplings of baldcypress subjected to different salinity regimes?