Purdue University Graduate School
Brennnan Dissertation 09-19-20.pdf (8.19 MB)

A Multidisciplinary Approach to Restoration of Butternut (Juglans cinerea)

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posted on 2020-12-16, 15:27 authored by Andrea N BrennanAndrea N Brennan
Anthropogenically driven global change is disrupting ecosystems and habitats of many plant species, straining the ability of native species to survive and reproduce. The overarching goal of this research was to holistically work towards restoration of a threatened tree species by connecting research from different disciplines. In order to do so, the threatened butternut tree (Juglans cinerea) and its hybrids were used as a case study. Hybridization can incorporate stress tolerance in plants and could be a potential restoration tool. Evidence in some wild butternut populations indicates that naturalized hybrids of butternut with Japanese walnut (Juglans ailantifolia) may be more tolerant to butternut canker disease (BCD) than butternut, but this has not been formally tested. Thus, chapter 2 examined potential BCD tolerance within and between unadmixed and hybrid butternut inoculated with two BCD fungal isolates. Differences in canker growth were observed by fungal isolate, which could help to explain some differences in BCD severity found among butternut populations. Smaller and fewer cankers and greater genetic gains were detected in hybrid families, demonstrating that hybrids warrant further evaluation as a possible breeding tool for developing BCD-resistant butternut trees.
However, even with increased disease tolerance, hybrids must possess similar ecophysiological tolerances to their native progenitor to be an effective replacement. Butternut is extremely cold hardy, but Japanese walnuts are native to a warmer ecosystem, indicating potential disparities in extreme temperature tolerances between the two species and their hybrids. Thus, samples from mature trees were subjected to cold and heat treatments to compare relative extreme temperature tolerances within butternut and between butternut, Japanese walnut, and their hybrids. Within butternut, trees from colder areas exhibited less cold damage than those from warmer areas. Differences in heat damage among provenances occurred but did not follow a clear trend. Butternut exhibited greatest cold tolerance, Japanese walnut exhibited greatest heat tolerance, and hybrids were intermediate. Thus, the utility of hybrids for restoration could be limited at the extremes of the species’ distributions.
A second, but different type of freeze test was conducted for chapter 4 using seedlings to gain a more nuanced understanding of cold tolerance within butternut and between butternut and its hybrids. No survival or damage differences were detected in butternut provenances, although seedlings from the coldest provenances experienced more delayed budbreak at the two warmest treatments than those from warmer provenances. Interspecific differences were not observed in dieback but were detected in survival and budbreak. The hybrids had greater survival than butternut from warmer provenances at the lowest temperature treatment (-38 °C), but given that temperatures that low are extremely unlikely to occur in those provenances, it is not anticipated to give the hybrids an advantage if planted in those areas. However, the hybrids’ earlier budbreak could limit the success of restoration with these hybrids in the coldest extents of butternut’s range.
If hybrids, as well as genetically modified (GM) trees, are successfully developed for effective disease tolerance and to serve as an ecologically suitable replacement, success of restoration using hybrids will ultimately depend on those directly responsible for replanting efforts. A survey was administered to land managers in 46 organizations in Indiana to gauge perceptions of hybrid and GM trees, as well as current use of hybrid trees. Land managers had stronger concern for ecological, rather than economic, issues. Agreement was highest for using hybrid and GM trees for “conservation and restoration of at-risk species”, “timber production”, and “non-timber products (fruit, syrup, etc.)”. However, perceptions varied by characteristics, such as concern type, age, and the type of land they managed. Ecological concern and the type of land being managed most strongly predicted current hybrid use. Overall, results indicate the majority of land managers in Indiana would likely be agreeable to recommendations towards using hybrids. However, most nonetheless had strong ecological concerns about their suitability as a native replacement. It is important to note, though, that consistent with the results of previous studies, great variation was seen within the performance and characteristics of the butternut hybrids in chapters 2-4. Thus, it may be possible with careful selection and breeding to harness this variation to develop disease tolerant and ecologically similar hybrids acceptable to land managers.


Northern Nut Growers Association Research Grant: "Temperature Stress Tolerance Comparison of Butternut, Japanese Walnut, and Their Hybrids"


Degree Type

  • Doctor of Philosophy


  • Forestry and Natural Resources

Campus location

  • West Lafayette

Advisor/Supervisor/Committee Chair

Douglass F Jacobs

Additional Committee Member 2

Sean M Hoban

Additional Committee Member 3

Robert J Joly

Additional Committee Member 4

Dr. Zhao Ma