Eyes on the future – evidence for trade-offs between growth, storage and defense in Norway spruce

Jianbei Huang, Almuth Hammerbacher, Alexander Weinhold, Michael Reichelt, Gerd Gleixner, Thomas Behrendt, Nicole M. van Dam, Anna Sala, Jonathan Gershenzon, Susan Trumbore, Henrik Hartmann

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

84 Scopus citations


Carbon (C) allocation plays a central role in tree responses to environmental changes. Yet, fundamental questions remain about how trees allocate C to different sinks, for example, growth vs storage and defense. In order to elucidate allocation priorities, we manipulated the whole-tree C balance by modifying atmospheric CO 2 concentrations [CO 2 ] to create two distinct gradients of declining C availability, and compared how C was allocated among fluxes (respiration and volatile monoterpenes) and biomass C pools (total biomass, nonstructural carbohydrates (NSC) and secondary metabolites (SM)) in well-watered Norway spruce (Picea abies) saplings. Continuous isotope labelling was used to trace the fate of newly-assimilated C. Reducing [CO 2 ] to 120 ppm caused an aboveground C compensation point (i.e. net C balance was zero) and resulted in decreases in growth and respiration. By contrast, soluble sugars and SM remained relatively constant in aboveground young organs and were partially maintained with a constant allocation of newly-assimilated C, even at expense of root death from C exhaustion. We conclude that spruce trees have a conservative allocation strategy under source limitation: growth and respiration can be downregulated to maintain ‘operational’ concentrations of NSC while investing newly-assimilated C into future survival by producing SM.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)144-158
Number of pages15
JournalNew Phytologist
Issue number1
StatePublished - Apr 2019


  • CO
  • Norway spruce (Picea abies)
  • biogenic volatile organic compounds (BVOCs)
  • carbon allocation
  • carbon limitation
  • growth–defense trade-offs
  • nonstructural carbohydrate (NSC) storage
  • secondary metabolites (SM)


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