Age, allocation and availability of nonstructural carbon in mature red maple trees

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Summary

  • The allocation of nonstructural carbon (NSC) to growth, metabolism and storage remains poorly understood, but is critical for the prediction of stress tolerance and mortality.
  • We used the radiocarbon (14C) ‘bomb spike’ as a tracer of substrate and age of carbon in stemwood NSC, CO2 emitted by stems, tree ring cellulose and stump sprouts regenerated following harvesting in mature red maple trees. We addressed the following questions: which factors influence the age of stemwood NSC?; to what extent is stored vs new NSC used for metabolism and growth?; and, is older, stored NSC available for use?
  • The mean age of extracted stemwood NSC was 10 yr. More vigorous trees had both larger and younger stemwood NSC pools. NSC used to support metabolism (stem CO2) was 1–2 yr old in spring before leaves emerged, but reflected current-year photosynthetic products in late summer. The tree ring cellulose 14C age was 0.9 yr older than direct ring counts. Stump sprouts were formed from NSC up to 17 yr old.
  • Thus, younger NSC is preferentially used for growth and day-to-day metabolic demands. More recently stored NSC contributes to annual ring growth and metabolism in the dormant season, yet decade-old and older NSC is accessible for regrowth.

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