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Keywords:

  • Carbon starvation;
  • dry inner alpine valley;
  • drought;
  • non-structural carbohydrates;
  • Scots pine;
  • tree mortality

Abstract

The physiological mechanisms leading to Scots pine (Pinus sylvestris L.) decline in the dry inner alpine valleys are still unknown. Testing the carbon starvation hypothesis, we analysed the seasonal course of mobile carbohydrate pools (NSC) of Scots pine growing at a xeric and a dry-mesic site within an inner alpine dry valley (750 m a.s.l., Tyrol, Austria) during 2009, which was characterised by exceptional soil dryness. Although, soil moisture content dropped to ca. 10% at both sites during the growing season, NSC concentrations rose in all tissues (branch, stem, root) until the end of July, except in needles, where maxima were reached around bud break. NSC concentrations were not significantly different in the analysed tissues at the xeric and the dry-mesic site. At the dry-mesic site, NSC concentrations in the aboveground tree biomass were significantly higher during the period of radial growth. An accumulation of NSC in roots at the end of July indicates a change in carbon allocation after an early cessation in aboveground growth, possibly due to elevated belowground carbon demand. In conclusion, our results revealed that extensive soil dryness during the growing season did not lead to carbon depletion. However, even though carbon reserves were not exhausted, sequestration of carbohydrate pools during drought periods might lead to deficits in carbon supply that weaken tree vigour and drive tree mortality.