Functional Plant Biology Functional Plant Biology Society
Plant function and evolutionary biology
RESEARCH ARTICLE

Effects of nitrogen source and ectomycorrhizal association on growth and δ15N of two subtropical Eucalyptus species from contrasting ecosystems

Susanne Schmidt A C , Linda L. Handley A and Tanuwong Sangtiean B

A School of Integrative Biology, University of Queensland, Brisbane, Qld 4072, Australia.

B Forest Research Office, Royal Forest Department, Bangkok, Thailand.

C Corresponding author. Email: Susanne.Schmidt@uq.edu.au

Functional Plant Biology 33(4) 367-379 https://doi.org/10.1071/FP05260
Submitted: 18 October 2005  Accepted: 22 December 2005   Published: 3 April 2006

Abstract

Ectomycorrhizal (EM) associations facilitate plant nitrogen (N) acquisition, but the contribution of EM associations to tree N nutrition is difficult to ascertain in ecosystems. We studied the abilities of subtropical EM fungi and nutritionally contrasting Eucalyptus species, Eucalyptus grandis W.Hill ex Maiden and Eucalyptus racemosa Cav, to use N sources in axenic and soil cultures, and determined the effect of EM fungi on plant N use and plant 15N natural abundance (δ15N). As measured by seedling growth, both species showed little dependence on EM when growing in the N-rich minerotrophic soil from E. grandis rainforest habitat or in axenic culture with inorganic N sources. Both species were heavily dependent on EM associations when growing in the N-poor, organotrophic soil from the E. racemosa wallum habitat or in axenic culture with organic N sources. In axenic culture, EM associations enabled both species to use organic N when supplied with amide-, peptide- or protein-N. Grown axenically with glutamine- or protein-N, δ15N of almost all seedlings was lower than source N. The δ15N of all studied organisms was higher than the N source when grown on glutathione. This unexpected 15N enrichment was perhaps due to preferential uptake of an N moiety more 15N-enriched than the bulk molecular average. Grown with ammonium-N, the δ15N of non-EM seedlings was mostly higher than that of source N. In contrast, the δ15N of EM seedlings was mostly lower than that of source N, except at the lowest ammonium concentration. Discrimination against 15N was strongest when external ammonium concentration was high. We suggest that ammonium assimilation via EM fungi may be the cause of the often observed distinct foliar δ15N of EM and non-EM species, rather than use of different N sources by species with different root specialisations. In support of this notion, δ15N of soil and leaves in the rainforest were similar for E. grandis and co-occurring non-mycorrhizal Proteaceae. In contrast, in wallum forest, E. racemosa leaves and roots were strongly 15N-depleted relative to wallum soil and Proteaceae leaves. We conclude that foliar δ15N may be used in conjunction with other ecosystem information as a rapid indicator of plant dependency on EM associations for N acquisition.

Keywords: ammonium, ectomycorrhiza, Eucalyptus grandis, Eucalyptus racemosa, N cycling, 15N natural abundance, organic N, rainforest, wallum.


Acknowledgments

This study was supported by the Australian Research Council. TS received scholarships from the National Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology (Thailand), AUSAID and The University of Queensland.


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