Beyond carbon flux partitioning: Carbon allocation and nonstructural carbon dynamics inferred from continuous fluxes
Carbon (C) allocation and nonstructural carbon (NSC) dynamics play essential roles in plant growth and survival under stress and disturbance. However, quantitative understanding of these processes remains limited. Here we propose a framework where we connect commonly measured carbon cycle components (eddy covariance fluxes of canopy CO2 exchange, soil CO2 efflux, and allometry-based biomass and net primary production) by a simple mass balance model to derive ecosystem-level NSC dynamics (NSCi), C translocation (dCi), and the biomass production efficiency (BPEi) in above- and belowground plant (i = agp and bgp) compartments. We applied this framework to two long-term monitored loblolly pine (Pinus taeda) plantations of different ages in North Carolina and characterized the variations of NSC and allocation in years under normal and drought conditions. The results indicated that the young stand did not have net NSC flux at the annual scale, whereas the mature stand stored a near-constant proportion of new assimilates as NSC every year under normal conditions, which was comparable in magnitude to new structural growth. Roots consumed NSC in drought and stored a significant amount of NSC post drought. The above- and belowground dCi and BPEi varied more from year to year in the young stand and approached a relatively stable pattern in the mature stand. The belowground BPEbgp differed the most between the young and mature stands and was most responsive to drought.