Prolonged dormancy is a life-history stage in which mature plants fail to resprout for one or more growing seasons and instead remain alive belowground. Prolonged dormancy is relatively common, but the proximate causes and consequences of this intriguing strategy have remained elusive. In this study we tested whether stored resources are associated with remaining belowground, and investigated the resource costs of remaining belowground during the growing season. We measured stored resources at the beginning and end of the growing season in Astragalus scaphoides, an herbaceous perennial in southwest Montana, USA. At the beginning of the growing season, dormant plants had lower concentrations of stored mobile carbon (nonstructural carbohydrates, NSC) than did emergent plants. Surprisingly, during the growing season, dormant plants gained as much NSC as photosynthetically active plants, an increase most likely due to remobilization of structural carbon. Thus, low levels of stored NSC were associated with remaining belowground, and remobilization of structural carbon may allow for dormant plants to emerge in later seasons. The dynamics of NSC in relation to dormancy highlights the ability of plants to change their own resource status somewhat independently of resource assimilation, as well as the importance of considering stored resources in understanding plant responses to the environment.
Copyright 2010 by the Ecological Society of America. Jennifer R. Gremer, Anna Sala, and Elizabeth E. Crone 2010. Disappearing plants: why they hide and how they return. Ecology 91:3407–3413. http://dx.doi.org/10.1890/09-1864.1.