Non-structural carbohydrate dynamics associated with drought-induced die-off in woody species of a shrubland community

Francisco Lloret, Gerard Sapes, Teresa Rosas, Lucía Galiano, Sandra Saura-Mas, Anna Sala, Jordi Martínez-Vilalta

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

31 Scopus citations


Background and Aims The relationship between plant carbon economy and drought responses of co-occurring woody species can be assessed by comparing carbohydrate (C) dynamics following drought and rain periods, relating these dynamics to species' functional traits. We studied nine woody species coexisting in a continental Mediterranean shrubland that experienced severe drought effects followed by rain. Methods We measured total non-structural carbohydrates (NSC) and soluble sugars (SS) in roots and stems during drought and after an autumn rain pulse in plants exhibiting leaf loss and in undefoliated ones. We explored whether their dynamics were related to foliage recovery and functional traits (height [H], specific leaf area [SLA], wood density [WD]). Key Results During drought, NSC concentrations were overall lower in stems and roots of plants experiencing leaf loss, while SS decreases were smaller. Roots had higher NSC concentrations than stems. After the rain, NSC concentrations continued to decrease, while SS increased. Green foliage recovered after rain, particularly in plants previously experiencing higher leaf loss, independently of NSC concentrations during drought. Species with lower WD tended to have more SS during drought and lower SS increases after rain. In low-WD species, plants with severe leaf loss had lower NSC relative to undefoliated ones. No significant relationship was found between H or SLA and C content or dynamics. Conclusions Our community-level study reveals that, while responses were species-specific, C stocks overall diminished in plants affected by prolonged drought and did not increase after a pulse of seasonal rain. Dynamics were faster for SS than NSC. We found limited depletion of SS, consistent with their role in basal metabolic, transport and signalling functions. In a scenario of increased drought under climate change, NSC stocks in woody plants are expected to decrease differentially in coexisting species, with potential implications for their adaptive abilities and community dynamics.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1383-1396
Number of pages14
JournalAnnals of Botany
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jun 8 2018


  • Climate change
  • Mediterranean
  • canopy dieback
  • die-off
  • drought
  • non-structural carbohydrates
  • plant functional traits
  • shrubland
  • soluble sugars
  • wood density


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