Nitrogen form and concentration interact to affect the performance of two ecologically distinct Mediterranean forest trees
Most studies examining inorganic N form effects on growth and nutrition of forest trees have been conducted on single species from boreal or temperate environments, while comparative studies with species from other biomes are scarce. We evaluated the response of two Mediterranean trees of contrasting ecology, Quercus ilex L. and Pinus halepensis Mill., to cultivation with distinct inorganic N forms. Seedlings were fertilized with different NH4 +/NO3 − proportion at either 1 or 10 mM N. In both species, N forms had small effects at low N concentration, but at high N concentration they markedly affected the plant performance. A greater proportion of NH4 + in the fertilizer at high N caused toxicity as it reduced growth and caused seedling death, with the effect being greater in Q. ilex than in P. halepensis. An increase in the proportion of NO3 − at high N strongly enhanced growth relative to low N plants in P. halepensis but had minor effects in Q. ilex. Relatively more NH4 + in the fertilizer enhanced plant P concentration but reduced K concentration in both species, while the opposite effect occurred with NO3 −, and these effects were enhanced under high N concentration. We conclude that species responses to inorganic N forms were related to their ecology. P. halepensis, a pioneer tree, had improved performance with NO3 − at high N concentration and showed strong plasticity to changes in N supply. Q. ilex, a late successional tree, had low responsiveness to N form or concentration.
This study was supported by a FPU-MEC grant to M. Uscola, and by projects AGL2006-12609-C02-01/FOR, AGL2011-24296 ECOLPIN (MICIIN), and the network REMEDINAL 2 (S2009/AMB/1783) of the Community of Madrid.
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