Australian Journal of Botany Australian Journal of Botany Society
Southern hemisphere botanical ecosystems
RESEARCH ARTICLE

Low-phosphorus conditions affect the nitrogen nutrition and associated carbon costs of two legume tree species from a Mediterranean-type ecosystem

Anathi Magadlela A , Aleysia Kleinert A , Léanne L. Dreyer A and Alex J. Valentine A B
+ Author Affiliations
- Author Affiliations

A Botany and Zoology Department, University of Stellenbosch, Private Bag X1, Matieland 7602, South Africa.

B Corresponding author. Email: alexvalentine@mac.com

Australian Journal of Botany 62(1) 1-9 https://doi.org/10.1071/BT13264
Submitted: 29 October 2013  Accepted: 11 February 2014   Published: 14 April 2014

Abstract

The role of phosphorus nutrition in two-legume tree species from the Mediterranean-type ecosystem of the Cape Floristic Region (CFR) in South Africa was investigated. There is very little information about the functional adaptations of nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P) nutrition in these legume trees growing in nutrient-poor soils. Nodulated Virgilia divaricata and V. oroboides tree saplings were grown in sterilised sand and supplied with Long Ashton nutrient solution, which was modified to contain either sufficient-phosphate (500 µM) or low-phosphate (5 µM) nutrient solution for 90 days. During low-P conditions, the growth of V. divaricata was not affected, whereas V. oroboides showed a decrease in growth. The decrease in V. oroboides under low-P conditions was related to the lower P uptake, which resulted in an alteration in belowground biomass allocation, which consequently affected on the N nutrition and carbon (C) cost of growth. In this regard, V. oroboides plants allocated less biomass to roots and nodules, as a proportion of whole plant growth. The impact of this was a decline in N nutrition, growth respiration and photosynthetic costs in V. oroboides. In contrast, V. divaricata maintained its P concentrations, photosynthetic costs and increased its nodule allocation under low-P conditions, to the benefit of N nutrition. The two CFR tree legumes appear to have different adaptations to low-P conditions, which may influence their N and P acquisition in their naturally low-P environment.

Additional keywords: acidic soils, biological nitrogen, fynbos, nutrient deficiencies fixation, Virgilia.


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