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Effects of competition and phosphorus fertilization on leaf and root traits of late-successional conifers Abies fabri and Picea brachytyla

Yu, Lei, Song, Mengya, Lei, Yanbao, Korpelainen, Helena, Niinemets, Ülo, Li, Chunyang
Environmental and experimental botany 2019 v.162 pp. 14-24
Abies fabri, Picea, biomass, carbon, chlorophyll, conifers, ectomycorrhizae, fertilizer application, glaciers, interspecific competition, leaf area, leaves, nitrogen, nutrition, phosphorus, phosphorus fertilizers, physiological response, primary succession, root systems, root tips, seedlings, soil, stable isotopes, water use efficiency
Leaf and root systems are known to show a high degree of developmental plasticity in response to the local environment. However, few studies have investigated simultaneously the leaf and root traits as affected by competition and phosphorus (P) fertilization, especially in connection with the primary succession. We investigated morphological and physiological responses to different competition treatments (intra- vs. interspecific competition) and P regimes in seedlings of Abies fabri and Picea brachytyla, collected from the late succession stage Hailuogou glacier retreat area. A. fabri had a greater total chlorophyll content and specific leaf area (SLA), higher leaf nitrogen (N) and P concentrations, as well as a higher water use efficiency (assessed by the carbon isotope composition, δ13C) and N absorption relative to P. brachytyla under P fertilization conditions, and its total biomass responded more strongly to P fertilization, especially under interspecific competition. P fertilization decreased the specific root length (SRL) and ectomycorrhizal infection in both species and specific root tip density in P. brachytyla but it had no effect on the average root diameter. We concluded that similar changes in root characteristics, but the superior performance of above-ground traits in A. fabri in response to P availability, especially under competition, explain the greater competitive capacity of A. fabri at final stages of succession. These findings highlight the influence of soil nutrition availability and competition on the functional traits of plants and contribute to the understanding of the role of relative modifications in leaf and root traits during succession.