Nitrogen-use efficiency in six perennial grasses from contrasting habitats



1. We studied the nitrogen-use efficiency (NUE) in six perennial grasses adapted to a wide range of nutrient availability. The glasshouse experiment was carried out in pots containing nutrient solution, with two fertility treatments. Nitrogen-use efficiency was considered as the product of nitrogen productivity and mean residence time of the nitrogen in the plant (calculated using 15N pulse labelling).

2. The species investigated are characteristic of habitats ranging from very nutrient rich to extremely nutrient poor, in the following order: Lolium perenne, Arrhenatherum elatius, Festuca rubra, Anthoxanthum odoratum, Festuca ovina and Molinia caerulea.

3.Lolium perenne (adapted to nutrient-rich habitats) had higher nitrogen productivity (A) than M. caerulea (species adapted to nutrient-poor habitats) but lower than that of F. rubra (from habitats with an intermediate availability of nutrients).

4. In the low fertility treatment, species with the lowest nitrogen-use efficiency had the lowest N productivity and the highest mean nitrogen residence time (MRT); however, although species with the highest nitrogen use efficiency had the highest N productivity they did not have the lowest MRT. In all species the nitrogen-use efficiency decreased with increasing N supply. The two components of the NUE (A and MRT) are inversely correlated along gradients of nutrient availability, but not at very high levels of nutrient availability.

5. The nitrogen-use efficiency of species at constant levels of nutrient supply tends to increase with increasing nutrient availability in their preferred habitat, according to the Clausman nutrient index, up to a certain nutrient availability and then decreases. The results support the contention that species from nutrient-poor sites are not necessarily adapted by a high nitrogen-use efficiency, but by low nutrient loss rates (high mean residence time of N in the plant).


  1. Present address: Institute for Natural Resources and Agrobiology (IRNA-CSIC), Apdo 257, 37071 Salamanca, Spain. E-mail: