Seasonal and inter-annual dynamics of growth, non-structural carbohydrates and C stable isotopes in a Mediterranean beech forest

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Seasonal and inter-annual dynamics of growth, non-structural carbohydrates (NSC) and carbon isotope composition (δ13C) of NSC were studied in a beech forest of Central Italy over a 2-year period characterized by different environmental conditions. The net C assimilated by forest trees was mainly used to sustain growth early in the season and to accumulate storage carbohydrates in trunk and root wood in the later part of the season, before leaf shedding. Growth and NSC concentration dynamics were only slightly affected by the reduced soil water content (SWC) during the drier year. Conversely, the carbon isotope analysis on NSC revealed seasonal and inter-annual variations of photosynthetic and post-carboxylation fractionation processes, with a significant increase in δ13C of wood and leaf soluble sugars in the drier summer year than in the wetter one. The highly significant correlation between δ13C of leaf soluble sugars and SWC suggests a decrease of the canopy C isotope discrimination and, hence, an increased water-use efficiency with decreasing soil water availability. This may be a relevant trait for maintaining an acceptable plant water status and a relatively high C sink capacity during dry seasonal periods. Our results suggest a short- to medium-term homeostatic response of the Collelongo beech stand to variations in water availability and solar radiation, indicating that this Mediterranean forest was able to adjust carbon–water balance in order to prevent C depletion and to sustain plant growth and reserve accumulation during relatively dry seasons.

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