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Tree–grass interactions for N in Nothofagus antarctica silvopastoral systems: evidence of facilitation from trees to underneath grasses

Gargaglione, Verónica, Peri, Pablo L., Rubio, Gerardo
Agroforestry systems 2014 v.88 no.5 pp. 779-790
Nothofagus, absorption, branches, environmental factors, fine roots, forage, forests, grasses, growing season, nitrogen, nitrogen fertilizers, sapwood, silvopastoral systems, soil, soil microorganisms, spring, trees, Argentina
Nothofagus antarctica forests in south Patagonia are usually used as silvopastoral systems but how grasses and trees compete for specific resources, such as nitrogen in these systems is unknown. To understand interactions between grasses and N. antarctica trees for N, an experiment with¹⁵N labeled fertilizer was carried out comparing N absorption by grasses growing under trees (silvopastoral system) with an open site. Labeled¹⁵NH₄¹⁵NO₃fertilizer at 10 % atom excess was added in spring at both sites and¹⁵N was measured in herbage, soil and trees every 30 days during the growing season. Soil was the component that containing the greatest amount of N and greatest¹⁵N recovery. Grasses growing in the silvopastoral system absorbed almost double of the fertilizer applied than grasses in the open site (32.4 kg N ha⁻¹derived from fertilizer based on¹⁵N recovery). Roots were also an important fate for N absorbed, representing 50 and 63 % of total¹⁵N recovered in grass roots of open and silvopastoral sites, respectively. Trees absorbed 69 % less applied N than grasses in the silvopastoral system; being mainly allocated in small branches, sapwood and fine roots. Overall,¹⁵N recovery was 65 % higher in the silvopastoral system (tree + grasses) than in the open site (grasses). Silvopastoral system made more efficient use of the¹⁵N added. These results indicated that N. antarctica trees in the silvopastoral system may “facilitate” fertilizer N absorption of grasses by improving environmental conditions like water availability or by reducing competition for inorganic N between soil microorganisms and plants.