Negative heterosis not apparent in 22-year-old hybrids of Picea mariana and Picea rubens
Abstract: Work from the 1970s indicated that, relative to either parent species, crosses between red spruce (Picea rubens Sarg.) and black spruce (Picea mariana (Mill.) B.S.P.) were inferior with respect to both growth and photosynthesis. We re-examined the hypothesis that there is negative heterosis in hybrids of red and black spruce using 22-year-old trees in a common garden study planted on two sites. The trees were the product of controlled crossings and represent a continuum from hybrid class 0 (pure black spruce) to hybrid class 1 (pure red spruce). Progeny of all controlled crosses were measured for height and diameter. A subset of families were measured for gas exchange and were assessed using a hybrid index based on needle color, needle configuration, twig ridges, twig bark color, vegetative bud color, and cone scale morphology. Tree growth rate linearly declined with the increasing proportion of red spruce germplasm (increasing hybrid index). In 1994, intermediate hybrid index classes did not differ in gas exchange from either pure black spruce (hybrid index class 0) or pure red spruce (hybrid index class 1), and in 1996, hybrids displayed slightly higher rates of gas exchange. Thus, negative heterosis was not apparent in 22-year-old trees. Individual tree hybrid index generally agreed with expectation based on midparent means, although the relationship was stronger on the higher productivity site (r2 = 0.91) than the poorer productivity site (r2 = 0.54).