How Trees Remember Environmental Stress in Their Growth Patterns

Greg Howard
7th July, 2024

How Trees Remember Environmental Stress in Their Growth Patterns

Image Source: Natural Science News, 2024

Key Findings

  • The study focused on two hickory species, Carya palmeri and Carya myristiciformis, in central-eastern Mexico's Lower Tropical Montane Cloud Forest
  • Researchers found that latewood width decreased during historical drought years, indicating trees were stressed and allocated fewer resources to wood production
  • Changes in xylem vessel traits were observed, suggesting trees adapted their water transport systems to cope with reduced water availability during droughts
Drought periods are significant evolutionary drivers of wood anatomical adaptations in tree species found in Lower Tropical Montane Cloud Forests. A recent study conducted by researchers at Universidad Continental[1] investigated the influence of historical drought events on wood anatomical traits in two relict hickory species, Carya palmeri and Carya myristiciformis, from central-eastern Mexico. The study aimed to understand how past drought conditions impacted latewood width and xylem vessel traits, which are critical for water transport within trees. The researchers hypothesized that latewood width, the denser part of the wood formed later in the growing season, would decrease during historical drought years. They also proposed that moisture deficits during tree growth between successive drought events would affect the wood's anatomical features. To test these hypotheses, they analyzed latewood anatomical traits developed during historical drought periods, as well as in pre- and post-drought years, in both hickory species. The findings of this study are crucial for understanding how trees adapt to water stress, particularly in the context of climate change. Previous research has shown that differential drought sensitivity shapes plant distributions in tropical forests[2]. This study builds on that by providing experimental evidence of how historical droughts influence wood anatomical traits, which in turn affect a tree's ability to transport water and survive in drought-prone environments. The researchers found that latewood width did indeed decrease during drought years, confirming their hypothesis. This reduction in latewood width suggests that the trees were experiencing stress and allocating fewer resources to wood production during these periods. Additionally, they observed changes in xylem vessel traits, which are crucial for water transport within the tree. These changes indicate that the trees were adapting their water transport systems to cope with the reduced water availability. This study also ties into broader research on tropical montane forests (TMFs), which are biodiversity hotspots and essential providers of ecosystem services but are highly vulnerable to climate change[3]. The findings highlight the importance of understanding how trees in these ecosystems respond to water stress, as changes in soil moisture availability due to global climate change are likely to alter species distributions, community composition, and diversity[2]. Moreover, the study's focus on hydraulic traits aligns with the growing recognition of the importance of plant hydraulics in assessing a plant's capacity to extract and transport water from the soil[4]. By examining how historical drought events influence these traits, the researchers provide valuable insights into the adaptive mechanisms of trees in response to water stress. In conclusion, the study conducted by Universidad Continental sheds light on the adaptive responses of Lower Tropical Montane Cloud Forest tree species to historical drought events. By demonstrating the impact of drought on latewood width and xylem vessel traits, the research underscores the importance of understanding plant hydraulics and drought sensitivity in the context of climate change. This knowledge is essential for informing conservation strategies and predicting how these vital ecosystems will respond to future climatic challenges.

EnvironmentEcologyPlant Science


Main Study

1) Ecological stress memory in wood architecture of two Neotropical hickory species from central-eastern Mexico

Published 6th July, 2024

Related Studies

2) Drought sensitivity shapes species distribution patterns in tropical forests.

Journal: Nature, Issue: Vol 447, Issue 7140, May 2007

3) Impacts of anthropogenic climate change on tropical montane forests: an appraisal of the evidence.

4) Plant hydraulics at the heart of plant, crops and ecosystem functions in the face of climate change.

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