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Regional coordination between riparian dependence and atmospheric demand in willows (Salix L.) of western North America

November 6, 2020


Plants vary in their hydrological and climatic niches. How these niche dimensions covary among closely related species can help identify co‐adaptations to hydrological and climatic factors, as well as predict biodiversity responses to environmental change.


Western United States.


Relationships between riparian dependence and climate niches of willows (Salix L.) were assessed, incorporating phylogenetics and functional traits to understand the adaptive nature of those relationships. The riparian dependence niche was estimated as the mean distance between georeferenced occurrence records and the nearest stream based on the National Hydrography Database. Results were compared to oaks (Quercus L.), a less riparian‐dependent clade, with the expectation of different niche relationships.


Willows generally occurred closer to streams than expected by chance, but riparian dependence varied substantially among species. Riparian dependence was positively correlated with mean annual temperature and diurnal temperature range niche, both indicators of atmospheric demand on evapotranspiration. Phylogenetic independent contrast correlations for these relationships were significant as well, and the high degree of niche convergence among species indicated evolutionarily labile co‐adaptations to riparian dependence and atmospheric demand. Plant height increased with mean annual temperature niche, and specific leaf area increased with residual variation in height, indicating underlying morphological correlates of niche variation. Oaks, on the other hand, exhibited no relationship between atmospheric demand and riparian dependence, and weaker niche relationships with riparian dependence overall.

Main conclusions

These results support the assertion that hydric‐adapted, woody riparian plants compensate for increased atmospheric demand on transpiration with a reliable supply of water provided by riparian habitats and that this trade‐off may be unique from mesic–xeric woody plants. Conservation of warm‐adapted riparian trees and shrubs under increasing temperatures and atmospheric demand may necessitate reversal of groundwater depletion. Cool‐adapted species may be best conserved through maintenance or expansion of riparian buffers as they become more riparian obligate with warming.

Publication Year 2021
Title Regional coordination between riparian dependence and atmospheric demand in willows (Salix L.) of western North America
DOI 10.1111/ddi.13192
Authors Bradley J. Butterfield, Emily C. Palmquist, Kevin R. Hultine
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Diversity and Distributions
Index ID 70215331
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Southwest Biological Science Center