Tree physiology

Allocation dynamics of recently fixed carbon in beech saplings in response to increased temperatures and drought.

PMID 25877767


The response of carbon allocation to drought has often been studied in terms of short-term transport velocity of recently fixed carbon from leaves to roots and root respiration. However, its dynamic response to other environmental conditions, e.g., to changes in temperature, is less clear. Here, we investigated the effects of drought, increased temperatures and their combination on transport velocity as well as on distribution of recent photoassimilates for different compounds, such as sugars, starch, organic acids and amino acids. We used a (13)CO(2) pulse-labelling approach and studied the recovery of (13)C in different plant tissues and compounds of beech saplings (Fagus sylvatica L.) during a 9-day chase period. Neither total dry biomass nor dry weights of leaves or roots were affected by drought or increased temperatures. Generally, the fast transfer of recently fixed assimilates from leaves to roots took about 1 day, while (13)C enrichment in soil CO(2) efflux peaked only 2 days after labelling. Increased temperatures prolonged mean transfer times of recent photoassimilates from the leaves to the roots, probably caused by enhanced intermediate storage alongside basipetal transfer, clearly impacting short-term carbon allocation. This temperature effect was seen in the delayed peak in (13)C excess of root sugars, decoupling the roots from the leaves in the short term. On average, ∼40% of the (13)C label initially present in the plant was recovered in the roots (over all treatment combinations), providing strong evidence for preferred carbon allocation into the roots at the end of the growing season. Root starch was the principal compound for long-term storage of carbon, whereas leaf (transitory) starch was remobilized again after some days, exhibiting the longest mean residence times under dry and warm conditions. These observation clearly point to different functionalities of the same compound (i.e., starch) in different plant tissues and the crucial role of roots for long-term carbon storage.