Strategies to mitigate shifts in red oak (Quercus sect. Lobatae) distribution under a changing climate

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Red oaks (Quercus sect. Lobatae) are a taxonomic group of hardwood trees which occur in swamp forests, subtropical chaparral, and savannahs from Columbia to Canada. They cover a wide range of ecological niches, and many species are thought to be able to cope with current trends in climate change. Genus Quercus encompasses ca. 500 species, of which ca. 80 make up sect. Lobatae. Species diversity is greatest within the southeastern United States and within the northern and eastern regions of Mexico. This review discusses the weak reproductive barriers between species of red oaks and the effects this has on speciation and niche range. Distribution and diversity have been shaped by drought adaptations common to the species of sect. Lobatae, which enable them to fill various xeric niches across the continent. Drought adaptive traits of this taxonomic group include deciduousness, deep tap roots, ring-porous xylem, regenerative stump sprouting, greater leaf thickness, and smaller stomata. The complex interplay between these anatomical and morphological traits have given red oaks features of drought tolerance and avoidance. Here, we discuss physiological and genetic components of these adaptations to address how many species of sect. Lobatae reside within xeric sites and/or sustain normal metabolic function during drought. Although extensive drought adaptation appears to give sect. Lobatae a resilience to climate change, aging tree stands, oak life history traits, and the current genetic structures places many red oak species at risk. Furthermore, oak decline, a complex interaction between abiotic and biotic agents, has severe effects on red oaks, and is likely to accelerate species decline and fragmentation. We suggest that assisted migration can be used to avoid species fragmentation and increase climate change resilience of sect. Lobatae.

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Tree physiology