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Keywords:

  • Soil nutrient heterogeneity;
  • root proliferation;
  • balanced nutrients;
  • spatial integration;
  • root respiration

To test the ability of plants to integrate small-scale imbalances in soil nitrate and phosphate patches, plant growth and acquisition of nitrate and phosphate were measured for the perennial grass Agropyron desertorum (Fisch. ex Link) Schult. and the shrub Artemisia tridentata Nutt. ssp. vaseyana (Rydb.) Beetle in soil where the principal supply of nitrate and phosphate came from two enriched patches. The soil was calcareous loamy-skeletal Typic Haploxerolls. These patches were applied in two treatments: either nitrate and phosphate were applied in both patches (balanced treatment) or one patch contained only nitrate and the other only phosphate (unbalanced treatment). The same total quantity of nutrients was applied in both treatments and these included 15N and 32P tracers. The plants were in large pots in open field conditions. There were no significant differences in total biomass production and nitrogen concentration between the two treatments, indicating that both species had the physiological ability to integrate soil nutrient resources. Artemisia was able to acquire more phosphate in the unbalanced treatment, probably due to the high local solution phosphate concentration. Generally Artemisia acquired more N and P than did Agropyron.