Chin J Plan Ecolo ›› 2015, Vol. 39 ›› Issue (7): 746-752.doi: 10.17521/cjpe.2015.0071

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Variations of non-structural carbohydrate concentration of Picea meyeri at different elevations of Luya Mountain, China

WANG Biao1,2, JIANG Yuan1,2,3(), WANG Ming-Chang1,2, DONG Man-Yu1,2, ZHANG Yi-Ping1,2   

  1. 1Beijing Municipal Key Laboratory of Traditional Chinese Medicine Protection and Utilization, Beijing Normal University, Beijing 100875, China
    2College of Resources Science and Technology, Beijing Normal University, Beijing 100875, China
    3State Key Laboratory of Earth Surface Process and Resource Ecology, Beijing Normal University, Beijing 100875, China
  • Online:2015-07-22 Published:2015-07-01
  • About author:

    # Co-first authors

Abstract: Aims The alpine timberline is highly sensitive to environmental changes, although the mechanism controlling timberline formation is still inconclusive. Our objectives in this study were to test whether the alpine timberline formation is determined by carbon limitation or growth limitation, and explore physiological and ecological mechanisms of timberline tree species adapting to alpine environments. We examined the concentrations of the overall nonstructural carbohydrates (NSC) and tissues NSC of Picea meyeri at the end of growing season and in three elevations (low, medium and timberline) along an altitudinal gradient on the north slope of Luya Mountain, Shanxi, China. Methods We collected samples of leaf, stem and fine root tissues of P. meyeri on September 15, 2013. The total soluble sugar concentration of plant tissue was measured by an anthrone-sulfuric acid colorimetric method, and starch was extracted by a perchloric acid method. Important findings The overall NSC and tissues NSC increased significantly with elevation, suggesting that there was no carbon limitation at the alpine timberline. The NSC source and sink are all increased significantly with elevation, and there is no significant difference in the source-sink ratio among three elevations, indicating an adaptation of source-sink balances to altitudes and no restriction of carbon source activity in timberline trees. The ratio of sugar to starch in tissues showed an increasing trend with elevation, which suggests that the colder the environment was, the stronger the protective strategy adopted in plant tissues through resource investments, implying more growth limitation in trees near timberlines, The research results appear to support the “growth limit” hypothesis to some degree.

Key words: elevation, nonstructural carbohydrate, source-sink balance, ratio of soluble sugar to starch, Picea meyeri, timberline

Table 1

Non-structural carbohydrate (NSC) across tissues, NSC in source (needles) and sink (carbon storage organs-fine roots and stem sapwood), and source-sink ratio of NSC (SSR-NSC = source NSC/sink NSC) in Picea meyeri growing at different elevations"

Overall NSC
NSC in source (%)
NSC in sink (%)
2 040 12.09b 19.49b 9.62b 2.0a
2 400 12.62b 19.48b 10.33a 1.9a
2 740 14.56a 23.12a 11.71a 2.0a

Table 2

Concentrations of soluble sugar, starch and ratios of total soluble sugars to starch in Picea meyeri growing at different elevations"

Elevation (m)
Soluble sugar (%)
Starch (%)
Sugar/ Starch ratio
2 040 8.57b 3.53b 2.4a
2 400 8.59b 4.03a 2.1a
2 740 10.32a 4.24a 2.4a

Fig. 1

Non-structural carbohydrate (NSC) concentrations in tissues of Picea meyeri growing at different elevations (mean ± SD, n = 5). Capital (for NSC ) and small letters (uppercase letters for sugars, and lowercase letters for starch) indicate significant differences (p < 0.05, Duncan test) among different altitudes."

Table 3

The ratio of soluble sugar concentration and starch concentration in tissues of Picea meyeri at different elevations"

Elevation (m)

Fine root
Coarse root
2 040 12.56b 1.33a 0.85a 1.27b
2 400 11.12b 1.40a 0.78a 0.64c
2 740 16.50a 1.27a 0.87a 1.64a
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