New paper – climatic divergence in cottonwoods shapes plastic responses to both climate and insect herbivory

Congrats to former Lindroth Lab postdoc Mike Eisenring (now a Researcher at the Swiss Federal Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape Research) on this great new paper about intraspecific variation in phenotypic plasticity! Mike found that cottonwood trees from cooler climates show higher plasticity in defensive chemistry in response to both climate and herbivory, until you stress them out with a combination of both. Great collaboration between UW Madison and cottonwood ecologists at the NAU Center for Adaptable Western Landscapes, supported by our Bridging Ecology and Evolution NSF grant!


Eisenring, M., R.J. Best, M.R. Zierden, H.F. Cooper, M.A. Norstrem, T.G. Whitham, K. Grady, G.J. Allan, and R.L. Lindroth. 2022. Genetic divergence along a climate gradient shapes chemical plasticity of a foundation tree species to both changing climate and herbivore damage. Global Change Biology. open access link

New paper – community consequences of phenotypic plasticity

J.R. Jeplawy, H.F. Cooper, J. Marks, R.L. Lindroth, M.I. Andrews, Z.G. Compson, C. Gehring, K.R. Hultine, K. Grady, T.G. Whitham, G.J. Allan, and R.J. Best. 2021. Plastic responses to hot temperatures homogenize riparian leaf litter, speed decomposition, and reduce detritivores. Ecology 102:e03461. link


Riparian ecosystems are shaped by leaf litter traits that depend on both local adaptation and plasticity across a climate gradient. MS student Joann Jeplawy used 6 populations and 3 common gardens of Fremont cottonwood across Arizona.Image

She found that trees growing in hot conditions made small and fast-decomposing leaves, whereas cold conditions allowed trees from different origins to express a wide range of traits and decomposition rates. 

And leaf traits and decomp rates matter for aquatic detritivore communities, shaping abundance, diversity, and composition. So, how will climate change affect stream communities? Past evolution and current acclimation in foundation species both play a role!

Plasticity in cottonwoods across the climate-stressed Southwest


So great to work with Hillary Cooper and other folks from the Cottonwood Ecology Group at NAU (Kevin Grady, Jacob Cowan, Gerard Allan, and Tom Whitham) on Hillary’s great new paper about trait plasticity across a steep climate gradient. Check out her final figure about how plasticity could alter how far away in temperature space you can plant a tree and have it thrive!