• Fagus sylvatica;
  • competitive interference;
  • drought;
  • 15N uptake;
  • 15N partitioning;
  • amino acids;
  • N compounds

Abstract: We assessed the role of water availability as a factor regulating the ability of beech seedlings to cope with competitive interference for nitrogen resources by an early successional species (Rubus fruticosus). A glasshouse experiment was performed with two levels of interference (beech with and without R. fruticosus) and three levels of irrigation (high, intermediate, none). 15N uptake and partitioning of both species, and composition of N pools in leaves, roots and phloem of beech, were determined. Under all irrigation regimes, 15N uptake by beech seedlings decreased when grown together with R. fruticosus. R. fruticosus had higher 15N uptake rates than beech, under all water supply levels. When irrigation was reduced, a substantial decrease in 15N uptake of beech seedlings and a concurrent increase in 15N uptake by R. fruticosus were observed. Interference by R. fruticosus and low irrigation also affected the 15N partitioning in beech seedlings and resulted in reduced allocation of 15N to the roots. The combination of competitive interference and lack of irrigation led to an increase in soluble non-protein N in roots and leaves of beech, due to protein degradation. This response was attributed to an increase in levels of amino acids serving as osmoprotectants under these conditions. The concentration of proline in leaves of beech was negatively correlated to shoot water potential. A competition-induced reduction of total N in leaves of beech under high and intermediate irrigation was found. These results illustrate (1) the advantage of R. fruticosus in terms of N uptake when compared to young beech, particularly under inadequate water supply, and (2) the changes in N composition of beech seedlings in order to cope with reduced soil water and interference by R. fruticosus.