, Volume 117, Issue 4, pp 460-468

The role of carbohydrate reserves in the growth, resilience, and persistence of cabbage palm seedlings (Sabal palmetto)

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Sabal palmetto (Walt.) Lodd. ex Schultes (cabbage palm) is an arborescent palm common in many plant communities throughout Florida, U.S.A., and the Caribbean. Although its seedlings grow very slowly in forest understories, they survive damage and defoliation well, and the species may increase in dominance following disturbances such as fire, logging, and hurricanes. We investigated the potential importance of total nonstructural carbohydrate (TNC) pools in the ability of cabbage palm seedlings to recover from the loss of aboveground tissue such as that caused by fire, grazing, or shallow burial by storm debris. TNC concentrations in belowground organs of seedlings from a forest understory were high, and TNC pools were sufficient to theoretically replace >50% of a seedling's canopy. The largest fraction of the belowground TNC pool was in stem tissue, where TNC in unclipped plants accounted for 26–54% of stem dry mass. Experimental reduction of TNC pools by repeated defoliation slowed seedling regrowth, and seedlings with inherently smaller pools (smaller seedlings) suffered higher mortality after repeated defoliation than did larger seedlings. Although regrowth and recovery after the loss of aboveground tissue was related to the size of the TNC pool in belowground organs, even the smallest seedlings with the smallest pools had sufficient stores to withstand at least two defoliations at frequent (7-week) intervals. Large belowground TNC pools in S. palmetto seedlings appear to enable them to survive all but the most frequent defoliations (e.g., frequent grazing or mowing). Allocation of resources to these stores, however, may contribute to the slow growth rates of S. palmetto seedlings in natural communities.

Received: 13 April 1998 / Accepted: 28 August 1998