Xylem anatomical and growth responses of the dwarf shrub Vaccinium myrtillus to experimental CO 2 enrichment and soil warming at treeline Academic Article uri icon


  • Plant growth responses to environmental changes may be linked to xylem anatomical adjustments. The study of such links is essential for improving our understanding of plant functioning under global change. We investigated the xylem anatomy and above-ground growth of the dwarf shrub Vaccinium myrtillus in the understorey of Larix decidua and Pinus uncinata at the Swiss treeline after 9 years of free-air CO2 enrichment (+200 ppm) and 6 years of soil warming (+4 °C). We aimed to determine the responses of xylem anatomical traits and growth to these treatments, and to analyse xylem anatomy-growth relationships. We quantified anatomical characteristics of vessels and ray parenchyma and measured xylem ring width (RW), above-ground biomass and shoot elongation as growth parameters. Our results showed strong positive correlations between theoretical hydraulic conductivity (Kh) and shoot increment length or total biomass across all treatments. However, while soil warming stimulated shoot elongation and RW, it reduced vessel size (Dh) by 14%. Elevated CO2 had smaller effects than soil warming: it increased Dh (5%) in the last experimental years and only influenced growth by increasing basal stem size. The abundance of ray parenchyma, representing storage capacity, did not change under any treatment. Our results demonstrate a link between growth and stem Kh in V. myrtillus, but its growth responses to warming were not explained by the observed xylem anatomical changes. Smaller Dh under warming may increase resistance to freezing events frequently occurring at treeline and suggests that hydraulic efficiency is not limiting for V. myrtillus growing on moist soils at treeline. Our findings suggest that future higher atmospheric CO2 concentrations will have smaller effects on V. myrtillus growth and functioning than rising temperatures at high elevations; further, growth stimulation of this species under future warmer conditions may not be synchronized with xylem adjustments favouring hydraulic efficiency.


  • Anadon-Rosell, Alba
  • Dawes, Melissa A
  • Fonti, Patrick
  • Hagedorn, Frank
  • Rixen, Christian
  • von Arx, Georg

publication date

  • 2018