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Fine-root responses to fertilization reveal multiple nutrient limitation in a lowland tropical forest

Ecology, 2015 Aug, Vol.96(8), pp.2137-2146 [Peer Reviewed Journal]

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  • Title:
    Fine-root responses to fertilization reveal multiple nutrient limitation in a lowland tropical forest
  • Author: Wurzburger, N ; Wright, SJ
  • Found In: Ecology, 2015 Aug, Vol.96(8), pp.2137-2146 [Peer Reviewed Journal]
  • Subjects: Fine Roots ; Mycorrhizal Fungi ; Biomass ; Lowland Forests ; Symbionts ; Phosphorus ; Primary Productivity ; Tropical Forests ; Nitrogen ; Nutrient Content ; Nutrients ; Nitrogen Content ; Soil Nutrients ; Potassium ; Tree Growth ; Species Diversity
  • Language: English
  • Description: Questions remain as to which soil nutrients limit primary production in tropical forests. Phosphorus (P) has long been considered the primary limiting element in lowland forests, but recent evidence demonstrates substantial heterogeneity in response to nutrient addition, highlighting a need to understand and diagnose nutrient limitation across diverse forests. Fine‐root characteristics including their abundance, functional traits, and mycorrhizal symbionts can be highly responsive to changes in soil nutrients and may help to diagnose nutrient limitation. Here, we document the response of fine roots to long‐term nitrogen (N), P, and potassium (K) fertilization in a lowland forest in Panama. Because this experiment has demonstrated that N and K together limit tree growth and P limits fine litter production, we hypothesized that fine roots would also respond to nutrient addition. Specifically we hypothesized that N, P, and K addition would reduce the biomass, diameter, tissue density, and mycorrhizal colonization of fine roots, and increase nutrient concentration in root tissue. Most morphological root traits responded to the single addition of K and the paired addition of N and P, with the greatest response to all three nutrients combined. The addition of N, P, and K together reduced fine‐root biomass, length, and tissue density, and increased specific root length, whereas root diameter remained unchanged. Nitrogen addition did not alter root N concentration, but P and K addition increased root P and K concentration, respectively. Mycorrhizal colonization of fine roots declined with N, increased with P, and was unresponsive to K addition. Although plant species composition remains unchanged after 14 years of fertilization, fine‐root characteristics responded to N, P, and K addition, providing some of the strongest stand‐level responses in this experiment. Multiple soil nutrients regulate fine‐root abundance, morphological and chemical traits, and their association with mycorrhizal fungi in a species‐rich lowland tropical forest. ; p. 2137-2146.
  • Identifier: ISSN: 0012-9658 ; DOI: 10.1890/14-1362.1

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