Effects of soil temperature on growth, biomass allocation and resource acquisition of Andropogon gerardii Vitman

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The effects of root temperature on growth and resource acquisition (carbon, nitrogen and phosphorus) were examined in Andropogon gerardii, a dominant C4 grass of tallgrass prairies of the midcontinental USA. Soil temperature (5.9 to 35.5 °C) was manipulated independently from air temperature (c. 25/20 °C day/night) in a greenhouse. Total biomass at the end of the experiment and relative growth rate (RGR) were maximum at 25 °C soil temperature (Tsoil) and decreased at higher and lower temperatures. Tsoil had no effect on leaf area ratio (the ratio of leaf area to total biomass); thus the effect of Tsoil on RGR was primarily through its influence on net assimilation rate (NAR). Different mechanisms may have contributed to decreases in NAR at sub- and supra-optimal Tsoil. Soil temperatures below 20 °C caused significant reductions in foliar nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P) concentration. High concentrations of these nutrients in roots suggest that nutrient transport was more strongly inhibited than uptake, and low foliar N and P may have contributed to reduced photosynthetic rates observed at 5 and 10 °C Tsoil. Net photosynthesis was < 12 μmol m−2 s−1 at 5 and 10 °C Tsoil and > 20 °mol m−2 s−1 at 15–40 °C. Changes in net photosynthesis did not therefore contribute to the reduction in NAR at supra-optimal Tsoil. The strong growth dependence of A. gerardii on Tsoil indicates that this abiotic factor may significantly limit productivity in tallgrass prairie, particularly early in the growing season.

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