Tuesday, May 11, 2010

N vs. P limitation

Nutrients limit grass growth in native grasslands throughout the world. Yet, which nutrients limit growth should vary. N limitation appears to be pervasive in all nutrient limited grasslands and P is often limiting, too. In Europe, grasslands are often divided into those limited by N vs. those limited by P. In N-limited grasslands some species such as Alopercus predominate, while in low-P grasslands its Molinia

Why the sorting though? What traits would have been selected for in low-N vs. low-P soils? Fujita et al. have a new paper coming out in Oikos that I think provides some good data to separate species and shed light on selection when nutrients are limiting. It's long been known that plants can produce phosphatases to increase P availability. Fujita et al. show that low-P species have higher rates of phosphatase production.

With the experiment examining plant growth and activity at a range of N:P supplies, the research has the potential to help understand not only differences in grassland communities but also the response of grasslands to N deposition. Fertilization with N increased phosphatase activity in ways that should further increase the abundance of low-P species.

The authors do a good job for their eight species in linking plant stoichiometry, plant growth, and resource availability, which might ultimately serve as a key trait in understanding selection for success when nutrients are limiting, as well as the functioning of grasslands.

Fujita et al. 2010. Oikos. doi: 10.1111/j.1600-0706.2010.18427.x

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