Rhizosphere activity in an old-growth forest reacts rapidly to changes in soil moisture and shapes whole-tree carbon allocation
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Pages / Article-Number
drought; drought release; C-|13 pulse labeling; sink control
Science & TechnologyMultidisciplinary SciencesScience & Technology - Other Topics
Drought alters carbon (C) allocation within trees, thereby impairing tree growth. Recovery of root and leaf functioning and prioritized C supply to sink tissues after drought may compensate for drought -induced reduction of assimilation and growth. It remains unclear if C allocation to sink tissues during and following drought is controlled by altered sink metabolic activities or by the availability of new assimilates. Understanding such mechanisms is required to predict forests' resilience to a changing climate. We investigated the impact of drought and drought release on C allocation in a 100-y-old Scots pine forest. We applied (CO2)-C-13 pulse labeling to naturally dry control and long-term irrigated trees and tracked the fate of the label in aboveand belowground C pools and fluxes. Allocation of new assimilates belowground was ca. 53% lower under nonirrigated conditions. A short rainfall event, which led to a temporary increase in the soil water content (SWC) in the topsoil, strongly increased the amounts of C transported belowground in the nonirrigated plots to values comparable to those in the irrigated plots. This switch in allocation patterns was congruent with a tipping point at around 15% SWC in the response of the respiratory activity of soil microbes. These results indicate that the metabolic sink activity in the rhizosphere and its modulation by soil moisture can drive C allocation within adult trees and ecosystems. Even a subtle increase in soil moisture can lead to a rapid recovery of belowground functions that in turn affects the direction of C transport in trees.