Plant carbohydrate storage: intra- and inter-specific trade-offs reveal a major life history trait

Meghan Blumstein, Anna Sala, David J. Weston, Noel Michelle Holbrook, Robin Hopkins

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

25 Scopus citations


Trade-offs among carbon sinks constrain how trees physiologically, ecologically, and evolutionarily respond to their environments. These trade-offs typically fall along a productive growth to conservative, bet-hedging continuum. How nonstructural carbohydrates (NSCs) stored in living tree cells (known as carbon stores) fit in this trade-off framework is not well understood. We examined relationships between growth and storage using both within species genetic variation from a common garden, and across species phenotypic variation from a global database. We demonstrate that storage is actively accumulated, as part of a conservative, bet-hedging life history strategy. Storage accumulates at the expense of growth both within and across species. Within the species Populus trichocarpa, genetic trade-offs show that for each additional unit of wood area growth (in cm2 yr−1) that genotypes invest in, they lose 1.2 to 1.7 units (mg g−1 NSC) of storage. Across species, for each additional unit of area growth (in cm2 yr−1), trees, on average, reduce their storage by 9.5% in stems and 10.4% in roots. Our findings impact our understanding of basic plant biology, fit storage into a widely used growth-survival trade-off spectrum describing life history strategy, and challenges the assumptions of passive storage made in ecosystem models today.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2211-2222
Number of pages12
JournalNew Phytologist
Issue number6
StatePublished - Sep 2022


  • allocation trade-offs
  • carbon allocation
  • common garden
  • growth
  • heritability
  • nonstructural carbohydrates
  • plasticity
  • storage


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