Increased N affects P uptake of eight grassland species: the role of root surface phosphatase activity


Y. Fujita, Dept of Environmental Sciences, Copernicus Inst., Utrecht Univ., PO Box 80115, NL–3508 TC, the Netherlands.


Increased N deposition may change species composition in grassland communities by shifting them to P limitation. Interspecific differences in P uptake traits might be a crucial yet poorly understood factor in determining the N effects. To test the effects of increased N supply (relative to P), we conducted two greenhouse fertilization experiments with eight species from two functional groups (grasses, herbs), including those common in P and N limited grasslands. We investigated plant growth and P uptake from two P sources, orthophosphate and not-readily available P (bound-P), under different N supply levels. Furthermore, to test if the N effects on P uptake was due to N availability alone or altered N:P ratio, we examined several uptake traits (root-surface phosphatase activity, specific root length (SRL), root mass ratio (RMR)) under varying N:P supply ratios. Only a few species (M. caerulea, A. capillaris, S. pratensis) could take up a similar amount of P from bound-P to that from orthophosphate. These species had neither higher SRL, RMR, phosphatase activity per unit root (Paseroot), nor higher total phosphatase activity (Pasetot: Paseroot times root mass), but higher relative phosphatase activity (Paserel: Pasetot divided by biomass) than other species. The species common from P-limited grasslands had high Paserel. P uptake from bound-P was positively correlated with Pasetot for grasses. High N supply stimulated phosphatase activity but decreased RMR and SRL, resulting in no increase in P uptake from bound-P. Paseroot was influenced by N:P supply ratio, rather than by only N or P level, whereas SRL and RMR was not dominantly influenced by N:P ratio. We conclude that increased N stimulates phosphatase activity via N:P stoichiometry effects, which potentially increases plant P uptake in a species-specific way. N deposition, therefore, may alter plant community structure not only by enhancing productivity, but also by favouring species with traits that enable them to persist better under P limited conditions.