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Faculty for Biology, Chemistry and Earth Sciences

Department Soil Ecology - Prof. Dr. Eva Lehndorff

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Zang, U; Goisser, M; Grams, TEE; Häberle, KH; Matyssek, R; Matzner, E; Borken, W: Fate of recently fixed carbon in European beech saplings during drought and subsequent recovery, Tree Physiology, 34, 29-38 (2014), doi:10.1093/treephys/tpt110
Drought reduces the carbon (C) assimilation of trees and decouples aboveground from belowground carbon fluxes, but little is known about the response of drought-stressed trees to rewetting. This study aims to assess dynamics and patterns of C allocation in beech saplings under dry and rewetted soil conditions. In October 2010, 5-year-old beech saplings from a forest site were transplanted into 20 l pots. In 2011, the saplings were subjected to different levels of soil drought ranging from non-limiting water supply (control) to severe water limitation with soil water potentials of less than -1.5 MPa. As a physiologically relevant measure of drought, the cumulated soil water potential (i.e., drought stress dose (DSD)) was calculated for the growing season. In late August, the saplings were transferred into a climate chamber and pulse-labeled with (13)C-depleted CO2 (δ(13)C of -47‰). Isotopic signatures in leaf and soil respiration were repeatedly measured. Five days after soil rewetting, a second label was applied using 99 atom% (13)CO2. After another 12 days, the fate of assimilated C in each sapling was assessed by calculating the (13)C mass balance. Photosynthesis decreased by 60% in saplings under severe drought. The mean residence time (MRT) of recent assimilates in leaf respiration was more than three times longer than under non-limited conditions and was positively correlated to DSD. Also, the appearance of the label in soil respiration was delayed. Within 5 days after rewetting, photosynthesis, MRT of recent assimilates in leaf respiration and appearance of the label in soil respiration recovered fully. Despite the fast recovery, less label was recovered in the biomass of the previously drought-stressed plants, which also allocated less C to the root compartment (45 vs 64% in the control). We conclude that beech saplings quickly recover from extreme soil drought, although transitional after-effects prevail in C allocation, possibly due to repair-driven respiratory processes.


carbon balance, carbon fluxes, drought stress quantification, labeling, recovery

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