A lifetime perspective of biomass allocation in Quercus pubescens trees in a dry, alpine valley

M. Slot, S.H. Janse-ten Klooster, F.J. Sterck, U. Sass-Klaassen, R. Zweifel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

4 Citations (Scopus)


Plasticity of biomass allocation is a key to growth and survival of trees exposed to variable levels of stress in their lifetime. Most of our understanding of dynamic biomass allocation comes from seedling studies, but plasticity may be different in mature trees. We used stem analysis to reconstruct whole-tree growth and biomass allocation patterns in Quercus pubescens trees harvested from a dry woodland in Valais, Switzerland. We identified three distinct growth phases. In phase I, a primary root developed but the aboveground structure did not persist. In phase II, height growth occurred and secondary roots developed. In phase III, height growth ceased and stems and roots only grew radially. Reference trees harvested from a less dry site nearby only showed phase II-type growth. In line with our hypothesis, drought-stressed trees maintained more biomass in roots and less in aboveground woody parts than reference trees. Contrary to our expectation, stressed trees allocated proportionally more resources to leaves and less to roots in the growing season before harvest than reference trees. It appears that sub-seasonal wood anatomical adjustments to water availability minimize hydraulic failure, thus enabling these dry woodland trees to invest preferentially in leaves. Wet years did not see preferential investment in aboveground tissues, suggesting more restricted plasticity in biomass allocation in these mature trees than in seedlings. It is concluded that trees beyond seedling stage show different responses to variation in drought than the better-studied seedlings.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1661-1668
JournalTrees-Structure and Function
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 2012


  • carbon allocation
  • pinus-sylvestris
  • water relations
  • hydraulic conductance
  • summer drought
  • radial growth
  • scots pine
  • plants
  • responses
  • roots


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