Stem compression reversibly reduces phloem transport in Pinus sylvestris trees
TREE PHYSIOLOGY, 2015,  35(10):1075-1085
Henriksson N, Tarvainen L, Lim H, Tor-Ngern P, Palmroth S, Oren R, Marshall J, Nasholm T

Abstract
Manipulating tree belowground carbon (C) transport enables investigation of the ecological and physiological roles of tree roots and their associated mycorrhizal fungi, as well as a range of other soil organisms and processes. Girdling remains the most reliable method for manipulating this flux and it has been used in numerous studies. However, girdling is destructive and irreversible. Belowground C transport is mediated by phloem tissue, pressurized through the high osmotic potential resulting from its high content of soluble sugars. We speculated that phloem transport may be reversibly blocked through the application of an external pressure on tree stems. Thus, we here introduce a technique based on compression of the phloem, which interrupts belowground flow of assimilates, but allows trees to recover when the external pressure is removed. Metal clamps were wrapped around the stems and tightened to achieve a pressure theoretically sufficient to collapse the phloem tissue, thereby aiming to block transport. The compression's performance was tested in two field experiments: a C-13 canopy labelling study conducted on small Scots pine (Pinus sylvestris L.) trees [2-3 m tall, 3-7 cm diameter at breast height (DBH)] and a larger study involving mature pines (similar to 15 m tall, 15-25 cm DBH) where stem respiration, phloem and root carbohydrate contents, and soil CO2 efflux were measured. The compression's effectiveness was demonstrated by the successful blockage of C-13 transport. Stem compression doubled stem respiration above treatment, reduced soil CO2 efflux by 34% and reduced phloem sucrose content by 50% compared with control trees. Stem respiration and soil CO2 efflux returned to normal within 3 weeks after pressure release, and C-13 labelling revealed recovery of phloem function the following year. Thus, we show that belowground phloem C transport can be reduced by compression, and we also demonstrate that trees recover after treatment, resuming C transport in the phloem.

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