Relative addition rate and external concentration; Driving variables used in plant nutrition research



    Corresponding author
    1. Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Section of Forest Ecophysiology, S-750 07 Uppsala, Sweden
    • T. Ingestad, EMC-SLU, S-750 07 Uppsala, Sweden.

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Abstract An increasing literature accounting for various types of experiments indicates that far lower external nutrient concentrations are required by plants than is usually thought to be the case. It is concluded that the ion uptake capacity of the roots, as described by the carrier concept, is high compared to that required for maintenance of the internal concentration. Serious errors in experimental conclusions are associated with insufficient and constant nutrient addition rates. The main errors are caused by non-steady states of the plants both with regard to the internal nutrient concentrations and the relative growth rate.

A dynamic concept has been proposed for direct use as the treatment variable within the range of sub-optimum nutrition. The nutritional factor is expressed as a flow, the relative nutrient addition rate in laboratory studies and the nutrient flux density in the field. The experimental use of the relative addition rate has led to steady-state nutrient status and relative growth rate and the interpretation of plant responses which differ fundamentally from accepted views. Thus, for instance, deficiency symptoms disappear, as in natural conditions, when the internal nitrogen concentration is stable, independent of level. The nutrition/growth relationships are very different from those observed when external concentration is varied. The regression line of relative growth rate on relative addition rate passes near to the origin at an angle close to 45 to the axes, which implies that the obtained relative growth rate approximates closely the treatment variable. A striking example of observed differences is the positive effect on nitrogen fixation exerted by high relative nitrogen addition rates compared to the well-known negative effect of increasing external nitrogen concentration.

The application of fertilizer on the basis of the nutrient flux density concept provides the possibility of supplying fertilizers corresponding to the consumption potential of the vegetation and to the natural flux density resulting from mineralization in the soil. Nitrogen utilization is high under such conditions and the resulting feedback of nutrition on the mineralization rate suggests that there will be a long-term increase in fertility.