Soil nutrient heterogeneity interacts with elevated CO2 and nutrient availability to determine species and assemblage responses in a model grassland community

Authors

  • Fernando T. Maestre,

    Corresponding author
    1. Department of Biology, Duke University, Phytotron Building, Box 90340, Durham, NC 27708, USA;
    2. Present address: Unidad de Biodiversidad y Conservación, Escuela Superior de Ciencias Experimentales y Tecnológicas, Universidad Rey Juan Carlos, c/Tulipán s/n, 28933 Móstoles, Spain
      Author for correspondence: Fernando T. Maestre Tel: +1 919 6607414 Fax: +1 919 6607425 Email: maestre@duke.edu
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  • Mark A. Bradford,

    1. Institute of Ecology, University of Georgia, Athens, GA 30602, USA;
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  • James F. Reynolds

    1. Department of Biology, Duke University, Phytotron Building, Box 90340, Durham, NC 27708, USA;
    2. Nicholas School of the Environment, Division of Environmental Science & Policy, Duke University, Durham, NC 27708, USA;
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Author for correspondence: Fernando T. Maestre Tel: +1 919 6607414 Fax: +1 919 6607425 Email: maestre@duke.edu

Summary

  • • Interactive effects of atmospheric CO2 concentration ([CO2]), soil nutrient availability and soil nutrient spatial distribution on the structure and function of plant assemblages remain largely unexplored.
  • • Here we conducted a microcosm experiment to evaluate these interactions using a grassland assemblage formed by Lolium perenne, Plantago lanceolata, Trifolium repens, Anthoxanthum odoratum and Holcus lanatus.
  • • Assemblages exhibited precise root foraging patterns, had higher total and below-ground biomass, and captured more nitrogen when nutrients were supplied heterogeneously. Root foraging responses were modified by nutrient availability, and the patterns of N capture by interactions between nutrient distribution, availability and [CO2]. Greater above-ground biomass was observed under elevated CO2 only under homogeneous conditions of nutrient supply and at the highest availability level. CO2 interacted with nutrient distribution and availability to determine foliar percentage N and below : above-ground biomass ratios, respectively. Interactions between nutrient distribution and CO2 determined the relative contribution to above-ground biomass of four of the species. The responses of dominant and subordinate species to [CO2] were dependent on the availability and distribution of nutrients.
  • • Our results suggest that soil nutrient distribution has the potential to influence the response of plant species and assemblages to changes in [CO2] and nutrient availability.

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