Vegetation strategies for nitrogen and potassium acquisition along a climate and vegetation gradient: From semi-desert to temperate rainforest

Stock, S; Koester, Moritz; Najera, F

Keywords: Subsoil nutrient tracing15N and K analog tracerNutrient uplift and recyclingNutrient cycles(semi)arid to humid-temperate natural ecosystemsChilean Coastal Cordillera


Nutrient acquisition strategies of plants regulate water flow and mass transport within ecosystems, shaping earth surface processes. Understanding plant strategies under current conditions is important to assess and predict responses of natural ecosystems to future climate and environmental changes. Nitrogen (N) and potassium (K) (re-)utilization from topsoil and their acquisition from subsoil and saprolite were evaluated in a continental transect, encompassing three study sites – an arid shrubland, a mediterranean woodland, and a temperate rainforest – on similar granitoid parent material in the Chilean Coastal Cordillera. The short-term (<1 year) plant N and K acquisition was traced with 15N and the K analogs rubidium and cesium. To do so, the tracers were either injected into topsoil, subsoil, or saprolite, in the immediate vicinity of eight individual plants per study site and injection depth. The long-term (>decades) K uplift by plants was investigated by the vertical distribution of exchangeable K+ and Na+. Recoveries of 15N and K analogs by arid shrubland plants were similar from topsoil, subsoil, and saprolite. Mediterranean woodland shrubs recovered the tracers primarily from topsoil (i.e., 89 % of recovered 15N and 84 % of recovered K analogs). Forest plants recovered the tracers from topsoil (15N = 49 %, K analogs = 57 %) and partially from greater depth: 38 % of recovered 15N and 43 % of recovered K analogs were acquired from subsoil and saprolite, respectively. Low nutrient accessibility in the topsoil (e.g., because of frequent droughts) drives shrubland plants to expand their N and K uptake to deeper and moister soil and saprolite. Woodland and forest plants dominantly recycled nutrients from topsoil. In the forest, this strategy was complemented by short-term uplift of N and K from depth. The vertical distribution of exchangeable K indicated long-term uplift of K by roots in all three sites. This highlighted that long-term K uplift from depth complements the nutrient budget across the continental transect.

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Título de la Revista: GEODERMA
Volumen: 425
Editorial: Elsevier
Fecha de publicación: 2022