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  1. Abstract

    Woody plant species store nonstructural carbohydrates (NSCs) for many functions. While known to buffer against fluctuations in photosynthetic supply, such as at night, NSC stores are also thought to buffer against environmental extremes, such as drought or freezing temperatures by serving as either back‐up energy reserves or osmolytes. However, a clear picture of how NSCs are shaped by climate is still lacking. Here, we update and leverage a unique global database of seasonal NSC storage measurements to examine whether maximum total NSC stores and the amount of soluble sugars are associated with clinal patterns in low temperatures or aridity, indicating they may confer a benefit under freezing or drought conditions. We examine patterns using the average climate at each study site and the unique climatic conditions at the time and place in which the sample was taken. Altogether, our results support the idea that NSC stores act as critical osmolytes. Soluble Sugars increase with both colder and drier conditions in aboveground tissues, indicating they can plastically increase a plants' tolerance of cold or arid conditions. However, maximum total NSCs increased, rather than decreased, with average site temperature and had no relationship to average site aridity. This result suggests that the total amount of NSC a plant stores may be more strongly determined by its capacity to assimilate carbon than by environmental stress. Thus, NSCs are unlikely to serve as reservoir of energy. This study is the most comprehensive synthesis to date of global NSC variation in relation to climate and supports the idea that NSC stores likely serve as buffers against environmental stress. By clarifying their role in cold and drought tolerance, we improve our ability to predict plant response to environment.

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  3. Abstract

    Predicted increases in forest drought mortality highlight the need for predictors of incipient drought‐induced mortality (DIM) risk that enable proactive large‐scale management. Such predictors should be consistent across plants with varying morphology and physiology. Because of their integrative nature, indicators of water status are promising candidates for real‐time monitoring of DIM, particularly if they standardize morphological differences among plants. We assessed the extent to which differences in morphology and physiology betweenPinus ponderosapopulations influence time to mortality and the predictive power of key indicators of DIM risk. Time to incipient mortality differed between populations but occurred at the same relative water content (RWC) and water potential (WP). RWC and WP were accurate predictors of drought mortality risk. These results highlight that variables related to water status capture critical thresholds during DIM and the associated dehydration processes. Both WP and RWC are promising candidates for large‐scale assessments of DIM risk. RWC is of special interest because it allows comparisons across different morphologies and can be remotely sensed. Our results offer promise for real‐time landscape‐level monitoring of DIM and its global impacts in the near term.

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  4. Abstract Desiccation-tolerant (DT) organisms can lose nearly all their water without dying. Desiccation tolerance allows organisms to survive in a nearly completely dehydrated, dormant state. At the cellular level, sugars and proteins stabilize cellular components and protect them from oxidative damage. However, there are few studies of the dynamics and drivers of whole-plant recovery in vascular DT plants. In vascular DT plants, whole-plant desiccation recovery (resurrection) depends not only on cellular rehydration, but also on the recovery of organs with unequal access to water. In this study, in situ natural and artificial irrigation experiments revealed the dynamics of desiccation recovery in two DT fern species. Organ-specific irrigation experiments revealed that the entire plant resurrected when water was supplied to roots, but leaf hydration alone (foliar water uptake) was insufficient to rehydrate the stele and roots. In both species, pressure applied to petioles of excised desiccated fronds resurrected distal leaf tissue, while capillarity alone was insufficient to resurrect distal pinnules. Upon rehydration, sucrose levels in the rhizome and stele dropped dramatically as starch levels rose, consistent with the role of accumulated sucrose as a desiccation protectant. These findings provide insight into traits that facilitate desiccation recovery in dryland ferns associated with chaparral vegetation of southern California. 
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  5. Abstract Widespread drought-induced forest mortality (DIM) is expected to increase with climate change and drought, and is expected to have major impacts on carbon and water cycles. For large-scale assessment and management, it is critical to identify variables that integrate the physiological mechanisms of DIM and signal risk of DIM. We tested whether plant water content, a variable that can be remotely sensed at large scales, is a useful indicator of DIM risk at the population level. We subjected Pinus ponderosa Douglas ex C. Lawson seedlings to experimental drought using a point of no return experimental design. Periodically during the drought, independent sets of seedlings were sampled to measure physiological state (volumetric water content (VWC), percent loss of conductivity (PLC) and non-structural carbohydrates) and to estimate population-level probability of mortality through re-watering. We show that plant VWC is a good predictor of population-level DIM risk and exhibits a threshold-type response that distinguishes plants at no risk from those at increasing risk of mortality. We also show that plant VWC integrates the mechanisms involved in individual tree death: hydraulic failure (PLC), carbon depletion across organs and their interaction. Our results are promising for landscape-level monitoring of DIM risk. 
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  6. Summary

    Trade‐offs among carbon sinks constrain how trees physiologically, ecologically, and evolutionarily respond to their environments. These trade‐offs typically fall along a productive growth to conservative, bet‐hedging continuum. How nonstructural carbohydrates (NSCs) stored in living tree cells (known as carbon stores) fit in this trade‐off framework is not well understood.

    We examined relationships between growth and storage using both within species genetic variation from a common garden, and across species phenotypic variation from a global database.

    We demonstrate that storage is actively accumulated, as part of a conservative, bet‐hedging life history strategy. Storage accumulates at the expense of growth both within and across species. Within the speciesPopulus trichocarpa, genetic trade‐offs show that for each additional unit of wood area growth (in cm2 yr−1) that genotypes invest in, they lose 1.2 to 1.7 units (mg g−1NSC) of storage. Across species, for each additional unit of area growth (in cm2 yr−1), trees, on average, reduce their storage by 9.5% in stems and 10.4% in roots.

    Our findings impact our understanding of basic plant biology, fit storage into a widely used growth‐survival trade‐off spectrum describing life history strategy, and challenges the assumptions of passive storage made in ecosystem models today.

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  7. Summary

    Under prolonged drought and reduced photosynthesis, plants consume stored nonstructural carbohydrates (NSCs). Stored NSC depletion may impair the regulation of plant water balance, but the underlying mechanisms are poorly understood, and whether such mechanisms are independent of plant water deficit is not known. If so, carbon costs of fungal symbionts could indirectly influence plant drought tolerance through stored NSC depletion.

    We connected well‐wateredPinus ponderosaseedling pairs via ectomycorrhizal (EM) networks where one seedling was shaded (D) and the other kept illuminated (LD) and compared responses to seedling pairs in full light (L). We measured plant NSCs, osmotic and water potential, and transfer of13CO2through EM to explore mechanisms linking stored NSCs to plant water balance regulation and identify potential tradeoffs between plant water retention and EM fungi under carbon‐limiting conditions.

    NSCs decreased from L to LD to D seedlings. Even without drought, NSC depletion impaired osmoregulation and turgor maintenance, both of which are critical for drought tolerance. Importantly, EM networks propagated NSC depletion and its negative effects on water retention from carbon stressed to nonstressed hosts.

    We demonstrate that NSC storage depletion influences turgor maintenance independently of plant water deficit and reveal carbon allocation tradeoffs between supporting fungal symbionts and retaining water.

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  8. Climate change is increasing fire activity in the western United States, which has the potential to accelerate climate-induced shifts in vegetation communities. Wildfire can catalyze vegetation change by killing adult trees that could otherwise persist in climate conditions no longer suitable for seedling establishment and survival. Recently documented declines in postfire conifer recruitment in the western United States may be an example of this phenomenon. However, the role of annual climate variation and its interaction with long-term climate trends in driving these changes is poorly resolved. Here we examine the relationship between annual climate and postfire tree regeneration of two dominant, low-elevation conifers (ponderosa pine and Douglas-fir) using annually resolved establishment dates from 2,935 destructively sampled trees from 33 wildfires across four regions in the western United States. We show that regeneration had a nonlinear response to annual climate conditions, with distinct thresholds for recruitment based on vapor pressure deficit, soil moisture, and maximum surface temperature. At dry sites across our study region, seasonal to annual climate conditions over the past 20 years have crossed these thresholds, such that conditions have become increasingly unsuitable for regeneration. High fire severity and low seed availability further reduced the probability of postfire regeneration. Together, our results demonstrate that climate change combined with high severity fire is leading to increasingly fewer opportunities for seedlings to establish after wildfires and may lead to ecosystem transitions in low-elevation ponderosa pine and Douglas-fir forests across the western United States.

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