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Concept: Willow


BACKGROUND: The recalcitrance of lignocellulosic cell wall biomass to deconstruction varies greatly in angiosperms, yet the source of this variation remains unclear. Here, in eight genotypes of short rotation coppice willow (Salix sp.) variability of the reaction wood (RW) response and the impact of this variation on cell wall recalcitrance to enzymatic saccharification was considered. RESULTS: A pot trial was designed to test if the ‘RW response’ varies between willow genotypes and contributes to the differences observed in cell wall recalcitrance to enzymatic saccharification in field-grown trees. Biomass composition was measured via wet chemistry and used with glucose release yields from enzymatic saccharification to determine cell wall recalcitrance. The levels of glucose release found for pot-grown control trees showed no significant correlation with glucose release from mature field-grown trees. However, when a RW phenotype was induced in pot-grown trees, glucose release was strongly correlated with that for mature field-grown trees. Field studies revealed a 5-fold increase in glucose release from a genotype grown at a site exposed to high wind speeds (a potentially high RW inducing environment) when compared with the same genotype grown at a more sheltered site. CONCLUSIONS: Our findings provide evidence for a new concept concerning variation in the recalcitrance to enzymatic hydrolysis of the stem biomass of different, field-grown willow genotypes (and potentially other angiosperms). Specifically, that genotypic differences in the ability to produce a response to RW inducing conditions (a ‘RW response’) indicate that this RW response is a primary determinant of the variation observed in cell wall glucan accessibility. The identification of the importance of this RW response trait in willows, is likely to be valuable in selective breeding strategies in willow (and other angiosperm) biofuel crops and, with further work to dissect the nature of RW variation, could provide novel targets for genetic modification for improved biofuel feedstocks.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Genetics, Genotype, Evolution, Enzyme, Biofuel, Willow


In recent decades, invasive willows and poplars (Salicaceae) have built dense floodplain forests along most of the rivers in Patagonia, Argentina. These invasion processes may affect Salix humboldtiana as the only native floodplain tree species in this region. It is assumed, that the property to reproduce vegetatively can play an important role in the establishment of invasive species in their new range. Thus, in order to contribute to a better understanding of willow and poplar invasions in riparian systems and to assess the potential impacts on S. humboldtiana the vegetative reproduction capacities of native and invasive Salicaceae were analysed. In a greenhouse experiment, we studied cutting survival and growth performance of the three most dominant invasive Salicaceae of the Patagonian Río Negro region (two Salix hybrids and Populus spec.), as well as S. humboldtiana, taking into account three different moisture and two different soil conditions. In a subsequent experiment, the shoot and root biomass of cuttings from the former experiment were removed and the bare cuttings were replanted to test their ability to re-sprout. The two invasive willow hybrids performed much better than S. humboldtiana and Populus spec. under all treatment combinations and tended to re-sprout more successfully after repeated biomass loss. Taking into account the ecology of vegetative and generative recruits of floodplain willows, the results indicate that the more vigorous vegetative reproduction capacity can be a crucial property for the success of invasive willow hybrids in Patagonia being a potential threat for S. humboldtiana.

Concepts: Asexual reproduction, Willow, Trees, Salicaceae, Salix caprea


Shrubs have expanded in Arctic ecosystems over the past century, resulting in significant changes to albedo, ecosystem function, and plant community composition. Willow and rock ptarmigan (Lagopus lagopus, L. muta) and moose (Alces alces) extensively browse Arctic shrubs, and may influence their architecture, growth, and reproduction. Furthermore, these herbivores may alter forage plants in such a way as to increase the quantity and accessibility of their own food source. We estimated the effect of winter browsing by ptarmigan and moose on an abundant, early-successional willow (Salix alaxensis) in northern Alaska by comparing browsed to unbrowsed branches. Ptarmigan browsed 82-89% of willows and removed 30-39% of buds, depending on study area and year. Moose browsed 17-44% of willows and browsed 39-55% of shoots. Browsing inhibited apical dominance and activated axillary and adventitious buds to produce new vegetative shoots. Ptarmigan- and moose-browsed willow branches produced twice the volume of shoot growth but significantly fewer catkins the following summer compared with unbrowsed willow branches. Shoots on browsed willows were larger and produced 40-60% more buds compared to unbrowsed shoots. This process of shoot production at basal parts of the branch is the mechanism by which willows develop a highly complex “broomed” architecture after several years of browsing. Broomed willows were shorter and more likely to be re-browsed by ptarmigan, but not moose. Ptarmigan likely benefit from the greater quantity and accessibility of buds on previously browsed willows and may increase the carrying capacity of their own habitat. Despite the observed tolerance of willows to browsing, their vertical growth and reproduction were strongly inhibited by moose and ptarmigan. Browsing by these herbivores therefore needs to be considered in future models of shrub expansion in the Arctic.

Concepts: Tree, Alaska, Shrub, Willow, Norway, Shoot, Moose, Catkin


The purpose of this study was to assess the effect of 8-weeks ingestion of a commercialized joint pain dietary supplement (InstaflexTM Joint Support, Direct Digital, Charlotte, NC) compared to placebo on joint pain, stiffness, and function in adults with self-reported joint pain. InstaflexTM is a joint pain supplement containing glucosamine sulfate, methylsufonlylmethane (MSM), white willow bark extract (15% salicin), ginger root concentrate, boswella serrata extract (65% boswellic acid), turmeric root extract, cayenne, and hyaluronic acid.

Concepts: Methylsulfonylmethane, Osteoarthritis, Glycosaminoglycan, Willow, Ginger, Rhizome, Turmeric, Spice


Little attention has been paid to the evolutionary consequences of the colonizing dynamics and succession processes following glacier retreat. Here we studied hybrid populations that have recently formed and established on glacier forefields of the European Alps owing to secondary contact of a lowland colonizer with a subalpine species. We analyzed the composition of two hybrid populations between Salix purpurea and Salix helvetica with nine microsatellite markers by using Bayesian methods (structure and NewHybrids), and simulations. We also studied niche differentiation between the hybrids and the parental species based on indicator values, soil pH and water retention potential measurements. Allelic structure of hybrids confirms the assumed parentage and in situ origin of the crosses on two independent sites within the last decades. Both hybrid populations comprised F1 and later generation hybrids (F2 and backcrosses), confirming hybrid fertility. The parental species showed significant differences in niche characteristics for temperature, soil pH, nutrients and moisture. Remarkably, the hybrids exhibited a higher tolerance to cold temperatures, nutrient-poor and acidic soils than either parent. Our results show that willow hybrids originated after glacier retreat and have established persistent populations within a few decades. One factor contributing to hybrid establishment in sympatry with their parents is their ability to occupy more extreme niches than either parental species within a mosaic-like pattern of microhabitats on the forefield. Introgression and/or transgressive segregation may have resulted in novel genotypes that are able to expand the ecological spectrum of either parent.Heredity advance online publication, 16 March 2016; doi:10.1038/hdy.2016.14.

Concepts: Gene, Evolution, Ecology, Glacier, Parent, Temperature, In situ, Willow


The application of aspirin-like drugs in modern medicine is very broad, encompassing the treatment of inflammation, pain and a variety of cardiovascular conditions. Although anecdotal accounts of willow bark extract as an anti-inflammatory drug have occurred since written records began (for example by Hippocrates), the first convincing demonstration of a potent anti-pyretic effect of willow bark containing salicylates was made by the English cleric Edward Stone in the late eighteenth century. Here, we discuss the route to optimizing and understanding the mechanism of action of anti-inflammatory drugs that have their origins in Stone’s seminal study, ‘An account of the success of the bark of the willow in the cure of agues’. This commentary was written to celebrate the 350th anniversary of the journal Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society.

Concepts: Immune system, Drug, Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug, Anti-inflammatory, Paracetamol, Willow, Recreational drug use, Royal Society


The importance of interplant volatile signaling in plant-herbivore interactions has been a contentious issue for the past 30 years. We revisit willows as the system in which evidence for interplant signaling was originally found, but then questioned. We established three well-replicated experiments with two willow species (Salix exigua and Salix lemmonii) to address whether the receipt of an interplant signal from a neighboring willow reduces herbivore damage. Additionally we tested whether this signal is volatile in nature, and whether plants signal better to themselves than they do to other individuals. In all three experiments, we found evidence that cues from a damaged neighbor reduce subsequent herbivory experienced by willows. In one experiment, we showed that bagging of clipped tissue, which prevents the exchange of volatile signals, removed the effect of neighbor wounding. This was consistent with results from the other two experiments, in which clipping potted neighbors connected only through airborne volatile cues reduced damage of receivers. In one year, we found evidence that the perception of volatile signals from genetically identical clones was more effective at reducing foliar damage to a neighbor than signals from a genetically different individual. However, this trend was not significant in the following year. In three well-replicated experiments, we found strong evidence for the importance of interplant volatile cues in mediating herbivore interactions with willows.

Concepts: Photosynthesis, Plant, Signal, Willow, Trees, Salicaceae, Salix caprea


Background and AimsSelective feeding by herbivores, especially at the seedling or juvenile phase, has the potential to change plant traits and ultimately the susceptibility of surviving plants to other enemies. Moreover, since hybridization is important to speciation and can lead to introgression of traits between plant species, differential feeding (herbivore-induced mortality) can influence the expression of resistance traits of hybrids and ultimately determine the consequences of hybridization. While it would be expected that herbivore-induced mortality would lead to greater resistance, there may be trade-offs whereby resistance to one herbivore increases susceptibility to others. The hypothesis was tested that the exotic slug, Arion subfuscus, causes non-random survival of hybrid willows and alters plant: (1) susceptibility to slugs; (2) secondary and nutritional chemistry, and growth; and (3) susceptibility to other phytophages.MethodsTwo populations of plants, control and selected, were created by placing trays of juvenile willows in the field and allowing slugs access to only some. When ≤10 individuals/tray remained (approx. 85 % mortality), ‘selected’ and undamaged ‘control’ trays were returned to a common area. Traits of these populations were then examined in year 1 and in subsequent years.Key ResultsThe selected population was less palatable to slugs. Surprisingly, foliar concentrations of putative defence traits (phenolic glycosides and tannins) did not differ between treatments, but the selected population had higher foliar nitrogen and protein, lower carbon to nitrogen ratio and greater above-ground biomass, indicating that vigorously growing plants were inherently more resistant to slugs. Interestingly, selected plants were more susceptible to three phytopages: an indigenous pathogen (Melampsora epitea), a native herbivorous beetle (Chrysomela knabi) and an exotic willow leaf beetle (Plagiodera versicolora).ConclusionsThis exotic slug changed the population structure of F2 hybrid willows in unanticipated ways. Defence expression remained unchanged, while nutritional and growth traits changed. These changes caused plants to be more susceptible to other plant enemies. Other exotic herbivore species are anticipated to have similar direct and indirect effects on native plant populations.

Concepts: Photosynthesis, Nutrition, Plant, Animal, Fern, Plant morphology, Willow, Herbivore


Despite the iconic association of palms with semi-arid regions, most are introduced and can invade natural areas. Along the San Diego River (San Diego, California, USA), the introduced Canary Island date palm (Phoenix canariensis) forms dense patches among native riparian shrubs like arroyo willow (Salix lasiolepis). The structural differences between the palm and native shrubs are visually obvious, but little is known about palm’s effects on the ecosystem. We tested for the effects of the palm on a riparian invertebrate community in June 2011 by comparing the faunal and environmental variables associated with palm and willow canopies, trunks and ground beneath each species. The palm invertebrate community had lower abundance and diversity, fewer taxa feeding on the host (e.g., specialized hemipterans), and more taxa likely using only the plant’s physical structure (e.g., web-builders, oak moths, willow hemipterans). There were no observed effects on the ground-dwelling fauna. Faunal differences were due to the physical and trophic changes associated with palm presence, namely increased canopy density, unpalatable leaves, trunk rugosity, and litter accumulations. Palm presence and resulting community shifts may have further ecosystem-level effects through alteration of physical properties, food, and structural resources. These results were consistent with a recent study of invasive palm effects on desert spring arthropods, illustrating that effects may be relatively generalizable. Since spread of the palm is largely localized, but effects are dramatic where it does occur, we recommend combining our results with several further investigations in order to prioritize management decisions.

Concepts: Ecology, California, Willow, Invasive species, Phoenix, Palm Sunday, Canary Island Date Palm, Palm syrup


Phytoremediation using willows is thought to be a sustainable alternative to traditional remediation techniques involving excavation, transport, and landfilling. However, the complexity of the interaction between the willow and its associated highly diverse microbial communities makes the optimization of phytoremediation very difficult. Here, we have sequenced the rhizosphere metatranscriptome of four willow species and the plant root metatranscriptome for two willow species growing in petroleum hydrocarbon-contaminated and non-contaminated soils on a former petroleum refinery site. Significant differences in the abundance of transcripts related to different bacterial and fungal taxa were observed between willow species, mostly in contaminated soils. When comparing transcript abundance in contaminated vs. non-contaminated soil for each willow species individually, transcripts for many microbial taxa and functions were significantly more abundant in contaminated rhizosphere soil for Salix eriocephala, S. miyabeana and S. purpurea, in contrast to what was observed in the rhizosphere of S. caprea. This agrees with the previously reported sensitivity of S. caprea to contamination, and the superior tolerance of S. miyabeana and S. purpurea to soil contamination at that site. The root metatranscriptomes of two species were compared and revealed that plants transcripts are mainly influenced by willow species, while microbial transcripts mainly responded to contamination. A comparison of the rhizosphere and root metatranscriptomes in the S. purpurea species revealed a complete reorganization of the linkages between root and rhizosphere pathways when comparing willows growing in contaminated and non-contaminated soils, mainly because of large shifts in the rhizosphere metatranscriptome.

Concepts: Archaea, Bacteria, Plant, Soil, Root, Willow, Bioremediation, Salicaceae