Stored non-structural carbohydrates (NSCs) could play an important role in tree survival in the face of a changing climate and associated stress-related mortality. We explored the effects of the stomata-blocking and defoliating fungal disease called Swiss needle cast on Douglas-fir carbohydrate reserves and growth to evaluate the extent to which NSCs can be mobilized under natural conditions of low water stress and restricted carbon supply in relation to potential demands for growth. We analyzed the concentrations of starch, sucrose, glucose and fructose in foliage, twig wood and trunk sapwood of 15 cooccurring Douglas-ﬁr trees expressing a gradient of Swiss needle cast symptom severity quantified as previous-year functional foliage mass. Growth (mean basal area increment, BAI) decreased by ~80% and trunk NSC concentration decreased by 60% with decreasing functional foliage mass. The ratio of relative changes in NSC concentration and BAI, an index of the relative priority of storage versus growth, more than doubled with increasing disease severity. In contrast, twig and foliage NSC concentrations remained nearly constant with decreasing functional foliage mass. These results suggest that under disease-induced reductions in carbon supply, Douglas-fir trees retain NSCs (either actively or due to sequestration) at the expense of trunk radial growth. The crown retains the highest concentrations of NSC, presumably to maintain foliage growth and shoot extension in the spring, partially compensating for rapid foliage loss in the summer and fall.
Swiss needle cast.
Saffell, B. J.; Meinzer, F. C.; Woodruff, D. R.; Shaw, D. C.; Voelker, S. L.; Lachenbruch, B.; Falk, K. 2014. Seasonal carbohydrate dynamics and growth in Douglas-fir trees experiencing chronic, fungal-mediated reduction in functional leaf area. Tree Physiology. 34(3): 218-228.