Extreme weather events are increasing in frequency and intensity due to global climate change. We hypothesized that tree carbon reserves are crucial for resilience of beech, buffering the source-sink imbalance due to late frosts and summer droughts, and that different components of non-structural carbohydrates (NSCs) play specific roles in coping with stressful situations. To assess the compound effects on mature trees of two extreme weather events, first a late frost in spring 2016
and then a drought in summer 2017, we monitored the phenology, radial growth and the dynamics of starch and soluble sugars in a Mediterranean beech forest. A growth reduction of 85% was observed after the spring late frost, yet not after the drought event. We observed a strong impact of late frost on starch, which also affected its dynamic at the beginning of the subsequent vegetative
season. In 2017, the increase of soluble sugars, associated with starch hydrolysis, played a crucial role in coping with the severe summer drought. NSCs helped to counteract the negative effects of both events, supporting plant survival and buffering source-sink imbalances under stressful conditions. Our findings indicate a strong trade-off between growth and NSC storage in trees.
Overall, our results highlight the key role of NSCs on beech trees response to extreme weather events, confirming the resilience of this species to highly stressful events. These insights are useful for assessing how forests may respond to the potential impacts of climate change on ecosystem processes in the Mediterranean area.