Will “Tall Oaks from Little Acorns Grow”? White Oak (Quercus alba) Biology in the Anthropocene

Albert G. Abbott, Margaret E. Staton, John M. Lohtka, Laura E. DeWald, Tetyana Zhebentyayeva, Beant Kapoor, Austin M. Thomas, Drew A. Larson, Denita Hadziabdic, Seth DeBolt, C. Dana Nelson, John E. Carlson

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Quercus alba L., also known as white oak, eastern white oak, or American white oak, is a quintessential North American species within the white oak section (Quercus) of the genus Quercus, subgenus Quercus. This species plays a vital role as a keystone species in eastern North American forests and plays a significant role in local and regional economies. As a long-lived woody perennial covering an extensive natural range, Q. alba’s biology is shaped by a myriad of adaptations accumulated throughout its natural history. Populations of Q. alba are crucial repositories of genetic, genomic, and evolutionary insights, capturing the essence of successful historical adaptations and ongoing responses to contemporary environmental challenges in the Anthropocene. This intersection offers an exceptional opportunity to integrate genomic knowledge with the discovery of climate-relevant traits, advancing tree improvement, forest ecology, and forest management strategies. This review provides a comprehensive examination of the current understanding of Q. alba’s biology, considering past, present, and future research perspectives. It encompasses aspects such as distribution, phylogeny, population structure, key adaptive traits to cyclical environmental conditions (including water use, reproduction, propagation, and growth), as well as the species’ resilience to biotic and abiotic stressors. Additionally, this review highlights the state-of-the-art research resources available for the Quercus genus, including Q. alba, showcasing developments in genetics, genomics, biotechnology, and phenomics tools. This overview lays the groundwork for exploring and elucidating the principles of longevity in plants, positioning Q. alba as an emerging model tree species, ideally suited for investigating the biology of climate-relevant traits.

Original languageEnglish
Article number269
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2024

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2024 by the authors.


  • Anthropocene
  • Quercus alba
  • adaptations
  • climate-relevant traits
  • environmental stress
  • research resources
  • woody perennial

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Forestry


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