Whole-plant allocation to storage and defense in juveniles of related evergreen and deciduous shrub species

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In evergreen plants, old leaves may contribute photosynthate to initiation of shoot growth in the spring. They might also function as storage sites for carbohydrates and nitrogen (N). We hence hypothesized that whole-plant allocation of carbohydrates and N to storage in stems and roots may be lower in evergreen than in deciduous species. We selected three species pairs consisting of an evergreen and a related deciduous species: Mahonia aquifolium (Pursh) Nutt. and Berberis vulgaris L. (Berberidaceae), Prunus laurocerasus L. and Prunus serotina Ehrh. (Rosaceae), and Viburnum rhytidophyllum Hemsl. and Viburnum lantana L. (Adoxaceae). Seedlings were grown outdoors in pots and harvested on two dates during the growing season for the determination of biomass, carbohydrate and N allocation ratios. Plant size-adjusted pools of nonstructural carbohydrates in stems and roots were lower in the evergreen species of Berberidaceae and Adoxaceae, and the slope of the carbohydrate pool vs plant biomass relationship was lower in the evergreen species of Rosaceae compared with the respective deciduous species, consistent with the leading hypothesis. Pools of N in stems and roots, however, did not vary with leaf habit. In all species, foliage contained more than half of the plant’s nonstructural carbohydrate pool and, in late summer, also more than half of the plant’s N pool, suggesting that in juvenile individuals of evergreen species, leaves may be a major storage site. Additionally, we hypothesized that concentration of defensive phenolic compounds in leaves should be higher in evergreen than in deciduous species, because the lower carbohydrate pool in stems and roots of the former restricts their capacity for regrowth following herbivory and also because of the need to protect their longer-living foliage. Our results did not support this hypothesis, suggesting that evergreen plants may rely predominantly on structural defenses. In summary, our study indicates that leaf habit has consequences for storage economics at the whole-plant level, with evergreen shrub species storing less carbohydrates (but not N) per unit plant biomass than deciduous species.

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