Olive (Olea europaea) has a very high tendency for year-to-year deviation in yield (alternate bearing), which has a negative economic impact on the olive oil industry. Among possible reasons for alternate bearing, depletion of stored carbohydrates (CHO) during the On-year (high yield) has often been mentioned. The objective of the present study was to verify the role of CHO reserves, as a cause or effect, in the alternate bearing of intensively cultivated olives. A monthly survey of soluble sugar and starch concentrations in the leaves, branches, bark and roots of On- and Off-trees (cv. Barnea) was carried out during a complete reproductive cycle from November 2005 to October 2006. Carbohydrate concentration in the sapwood was determined in January, as well as an estimate of whole-tree biomass. The trunk and limbs possess the largest portion of CHO reserves. The influence of reduced fruit load on CHO reserves was also investigated. Starch, mannitol and sucrose concentrations increased from December to March in all tissues, and then declined along with fruit development. Leaves, branches and bark have a significant role in CHO storage, whereas roots accumulated the lowest CHO concentrations. However, fluctuations in reserve content suggested considerable involvement of roots in the CHO budget. Nevertheless, there were no meaningful differences in the annual pattern of CHO concentration between On- and Off-trees. Even a 75-100% reduction in fruit number brought about only a minor, sluggish increase in CHO content, though this was more pronounced in the roots. Carbohydrate reserves were not depleted, even under maximum demands for fruit and oil production. It is concluded that in olives, the status of CHO reserves is not a yield determinant. However, they may play a significant role in the olive's survival strategy, ensuring tree recovery in the unpredictable semiarid Mediterranean environment. This suggests that CHO reserves in olive act like an active sink, challenging the common concept regarding the regulation of CHO reserves in plants.
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