Blackwell Publishing Journal Backfiles 1879-2005
The cost of nitrogen storage to current growth was examined in relation to N availability in the biennial Cirsium vulgare. Plants were grown outdoors, in sand culture, with continuous diel drip irrigation of fertilization medium containing one of five different N concentrations. Plants grown at the highest N concentration stored twice as much N in their tap roots as did plants grown at the lowest N concentration. In high-N-grown plants, the storage of N reserves occurred during the period of maximum growth, at the same time as tap-root production. At the time of maximum biomass, stored N was also at a maximum. During the period following maximum biomass, no additional storage of N occurred. This pattern was observed despite frequent late-season leaf senescence which resulted in a large pool of potentially mobile N which could have been stored at no cost to growth. In low-N-grown plants, the production of tap-root storage tissue and the filling of that tissue with stored N were staggered. Tap-root production and growth occurred during the period of maximum growth, as in the high-N-grown plants. However, filling of the storage tissue with N occurred late in the growing season, when the pool of mobile N from senescent leaves was large. The utilization of this late-season N source occurred with little or no cost to growth, and this N is labelled, according to previous definitions, as ‘accumulated’. The costs of storing N in plants of the different N treatments were calculated using two models based on different growth constraints. In one model, the cost of N storage was represented as lost growth due to allocation of N to storage, rather than to the photosynthetic shoot (i.e. growth was assumed to be limited by carbon acquisition). In the second model, the storage cost was calculated as lost growth due to allocation of N to storage, rather than to the nitrogen-acquiring fine-root system (i.e. growth was assumed to be limited by nitrogen acquisition). In both models, the total cost of N storage was predicted to decrease as N availability decreased due to smaller storage pool sizes in plants of the low-N treatments. The cost of filling the tap root with stored N as a percentage of the total storage cost was also reduced as N availability decreased due to the occurrence of late-season accumulation. By relying, at least in part, on late-season accumulation, plants grown at the lowest three levels of N availability reduced total storage costs by 15 to 22%. The results demonstrate that plants are capable of adjusting their storage patterns in response to low nitrogen availability such that the costs of storage are reduced.
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