The biological drought and growth indicator network

Are trees able to grow in periods of stem shrinkage?

Publication in New Phytologist about separating stem radius measurements into growth and tree water deficit


  • Separating continuously measured stem radius (SR) fluctuations into growth-induced irreversible stem expansion (GRO) and tree water deficit-induced reversible stem shrinkage (TWD) requires a conceptualization of potential growth processes that may occur during periods of shrinking and expanding SR below a precedent maximum. Here, we investigated two physiological concepts: the linear growth (LG) concept, assuming linear growth, versus the zero growth (ZG) concept, assuming no growth during periods of stem shrinkage.
  • We evaluated the physiological mechanisms underlying these two concepts and assessed their respective plausibilities using SR data obtained from 15 deciduous and evergreen trees.
  • The application of the LG concept produced steady growth rates, whereas growth rates varied strongly under the ZG concept, more in accordance with mechanistic expectations. Further, growth increased for a maximum of 120┬ámin after periods of stem shrinkage, indicating limited growth activity during those periods. However, this extra growth was found to be a small fraction of total growth only. Furthermore, TWD under the ZG concept was better explained by a hydraulic plant model than TWD under the LG concept.
  • We conclude that periods of stem shrinkage allow for very little growth in the four tree species investigated. However, further studies should focus on obtaining independent growth data to ultimately validate these findings.