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Production of constitutive and induced secondary metabolites is coordinated with growth and storage in Norway spruce saplings.


A mechanistic understanding of how trees balance the trade-offs between growth, storage and defense is limited but crucial for predicting tree responses to abiotic and biotic stresses. Here we investigated how trees allocate storage of non-structural carbohydrates (NSC) to growth and constitutive and induced secondary metabolites (SM). We exposed Norway spruce (Picea abies) saplings to 5 weeks of complete darkness to induce light and/or carbon limitation and then applied methyl jasmonate (MeJA) to simulate biotic attack. We measured changes in biomass, NSC (sum of soluble sugars and starches), and constitutive and induced SM (sum of phenolic compounds and terpenoids) in current-year developing and previous-year mature needles and branches, as well as volatiles emitted from the canopy. Under darkness, NSC storage was preferentially used for constitutive biosynthesis of monoterpenes rather than biosynthesis of stilbenes and growth of developing organs, while SM stored in mature organs cannot be remobilized and recycled. Furthermore, MeJA-induced production of SM was constrained by low NSC availability in developing organs but not in mature organs grown in the dark. Emissions of volatiles were suppressed in the dark but after 1 h of re-illumination, emissions of both constitutive and induced monoterpene hydrocarbons recovered rapidly, whereas emissions of linalool and sesquiterpene produced via de novo synthesis did not recover. Our results highlight that light and/or carbon limitation may constrain constitutive and JA-induced biosynthesis of SM in coordination with growth, NSC storage and mobilization.

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