Effects of excess nitrogen on frost hardiness and freezing injury of above-ground tissue in young oaks (Quercus petraea and Q. robur)

Authors

  • F. M. THOMAS,

    1. 1 Universität Göttingen, Albrecht-von-Haller-Institut für Pflanzenwissenschaften, Abteilung Ökologie und Ökosystemforschung, Untere Karspüle 2, D-37073 Göttingen, Germany
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  • U. AHLERS

    1. 1 Universität Göttingen, Albrecht-von-Haller-Institut für Pflanzenwissenschaften, Abteilung Ökologie und Ökosystemforschung, Untere Karspüle 2, D-37073 Göttingen, Germany
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Abstract

The effects of excess nitrogen (N) on the frost hardiness and freezing injury of bark and buds were tested in 2-yr-old sessile oaks (Quercus petraea) and pedunculate oaks (Q. robur) that had been grown outdoors in sand culture with normal or luxurious N supply during the growing season. Some trees from both N treatments were subjected to drought stress in summer, whereas others were adequately watered. Between January and March, whole plants were exposed to artificial freezing treatments at −25 °C of different durations (10 d, 21 d, or two periods of 4 d interrupted by an 8 d frost-free period, referred to as a freeze–thaw cycle). The frost hardiness and freezing injury of the bark were determined by two different versions of the electrolyte leakage method (calculation of an index of injury, I−25, from the relative conductivity after a fixed time; and measurement of the electrolyte leakage rate). In addition, the vitality of bark and buds was assessed visually with the 2,3,5-triphenyltetrazolium chloride (TTC) method. In comparison with the control, the oaks that had been luxuriously supplied with N exhibited distinctly higher N concentrations and lower C:N ratios in their leaves and bark, higher relative shoot increments, delayed leaf discoloration in autumn, and earlier budbreak in spring. Oaks kept outdoors during the winter were frost-hardy from December until the end of February without showing differences between species or N treatments. In comparison with the pedunculate oak, the sessile oak was more susceptible to freezing injury induced by prolonged artificial freezing or by the freeze–thaw cycle. Increased freezing injury in trees with high N supply was detected only by the TTC test of the bark of sessile oaks subjected to the freeze–thaw cycle. In all oaks, except for the pedunculate oaks grown with normal N, the freeze–thaw cycle resulted in significantly lower frost hardiness, as indicated by increased I−25 values. This treatment also led to increased freezing damage of bark and buds, as revealed by the TTC test. In drought-stressed oaks, the electrolyte leakage rate was significantly elevated after the freeze–thaw cycle. It is concluded that, in the sessile and pedunculate oaks, the water supply before frost stress and the course of the temperature in winter have a greater effect on frost hardiness and freezing damage than excess N.

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