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Temperature memory and non-structural carbohydrates mediate legacies of a hot drought in trees across the southwestern USA


Drew M. P. Peltier
Jessica Guo
Phiyen Nguyen
Michael Bangs
Michelle Wilson
Kimberly Samuels-Crow
Larissa L. Yocom
Yao Liu
Michael K. Fell
David Auty
Christopher Schwalm
William R. L. Anderegg
George W. Koch
Marcy E. Litvak
Kiona Ogle



Publication type:

Scientific Journal (JRNL)

Primary Station(s):

Rocky Mountain Research Station


Tree Physiology. doi:


Trees are long-lived organisms that integrate climate conditions across years or decades to produce secondary growth. This integration process is sometimes referred to as ‘climatic memory.’ While widely perceived, the physiological processes underlying this temporal integration, such as the storage and remobilization of non-structural carbohydrates (NSC), are rarely explicitly studied. This is perhaps most apparent when considering drought legacies (perturbed post-drought growth responses to climate), and the physiological mechanisms underlying these lagged responses to climatic extremes. Yet, drought legacies are likely to become more common if warming climate brings more frequent drought. To quantify the linkages between drought legacies, climate memory and NSC, we measured tree growth (via tree ring widths) and NSC concentrations in three dominant species across the southwestern USA. We analyzed these data with a hierarchical mixed effects model to evaluate the time-scales of influence of past climate (memory) on tree growth. We then evaluated the role of climate memory and the degree to which variation in NSC concentrations were related to forward-predicted growth during the hot 2011-2012 drought and subsequent 4-year recovery period. Populus tremuloides exhibited longer climatic memory compared to either Pinus edulis or Juniperus osteosperma, but following the 2011-2012 drought, P. tremuloides trees with relatively longer memory of temperature conditions showed larger (more negative) drought legacies. Conversely, Pinus edulis trees with longer temperature memory had smaller (less negative) drought legacies. For both species, higher NSC concentrations followed more negative (larger) drought legacies, though the relevant NSC fraction differed between P. tremuloides and P. edulis. Our results suggest that differences in tree NSC are also imprinted upon tree growth responses to climate across long time scales, which also underlie tree resilience to increasingly frequent drought events under climate change.


Peltier, Drew M. P.; Guo, Jessica; Nguyen, Phiyen; Bangs, Michael; Wilson, Michelle; Samuels-Crow, Kimberly; Yocom, Larissa L.; Liu, Yao; Fell, Michael K.; Shaw, John D.; Auty, David; Schwalm, Christopher; Anderegg, William R. L.; Koch, George W.; Litvak, Marcy E.; Ogle, Kiona. 2021. Temperature memory and non-structural carbohydrates mediate legacies of a hot drought in trees across the southwestern USA. Tree Physiology. doi:


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  • This article was written and prepared by U.S. Government employees on official time, and is therefore in the public domain.