Plant stress master variable: non-structural carbon?

April 6, 2012 – 4:05 pm

Our lab group recently read a 2010 review paper by Ülo Niinemets that presents the interesting hypothesis that the effects of various stresses on tree behavior can be summarized using the master variable of “nonstructural” or “storage” carbon. The idea is that if the plant is doing well, it will store extra carbon to use in case of stress such as waterlogging, heat wave, water stress, or anything else that prevents it from photosynthesizing. When stresses arrive, the trees start using up that carbon. When the storage carbon is gone, they are at risk of death if the stress does not end:

Currently the effects of various stresses cannot be deconvoluted in field environments, but storage carbon size likely provides an important point of convergence of various stress pathways. The predictions based on non-structural carbon pools suggest that maintenance of higher storage carbon pools increases the tolerance of sustained stress.

Could understanding plant stress be as simple as this? Probably not, but it’s a nice place to start. We are thinking about doing some preliminary analyses with some of our arctic plants. Our idea is to take plant tissues, enzymatically degrade the starches into sugar and then measure the total sugar pool. We think that our snowmelt acceleration treatment may be stressing the plants. If we do see reductions in nonstructural carbon in those plants, it would be consistent with our hypothesis of plant stress and could provide a nice piece of evidence. The review also mentions that in the future, we may find more sophisticated correlates like VOCs to help us nondestructively assess plant stress level.

  1. 2 Responses to “Plant stress master variable: non-structural carbon?”

  2. Really great idea! I will check that article out. I just read an article in PNAS looking at water and carbon stress in dying aspen and they looked at NSC ( Do you have a hypothesis about what is causing the plants to be stressed from the snowmelt acceleration?

    By Aaron Berdanier on Apr 6, 2012

  3. Thanks for that link. Cool application of this idea.

    As for the snowmelt acceleration, I think the snow may act as a protective blanket for the plants.

    There are a few hints in the literature that this might be true, like in this paper:

    “At the upland tundra site, protection of overwintering buds by a longer duration of deep snow appears to be linked to greater photosynthetic capacity and NEP.”

    By Anthony on Apr 9, 2012

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