Growth and physiological responses of subalpine forbs to nitrogen and soil moisture: investigating the potential roles of plant functional traits
Slominski, Anthony H.
Burkle, Laura A.
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Anthropogenic inputs of biologically available nitrogen (N) and climate change are simultaneously altering N and soil moisture availability in terrestrial ecosystems. Yet, plant responses to concurrent changes in both N and soil moisture in non-grassland ecosystems remain poorly understood. Our objective was to investigate how rooting depth and N-fixing ability—two functional traits we expected to mediate soil moisture and N limitations—influence forb responses to N and soil moisture availability in the Rocky Mountains USA. We assessed the growth and physiological responses (i.e., chlorophyll fluorescence, transpiration rate, and floral display) of four subalpine forb species to N additions across a naturally-occurring soil moisture gradient during one growing season. Soil moisture had a stronger positive effect on growth in shallow-rooted species and N additions had a stronger positive effect on photosynthetic capacity in species without N-fixing abilities. Transpiration rates were not consistent with soil moisture limitations expected for shallow-rooted species, and soil moisture and N had a neutral or negative influence on maximum floral displays across species. Nitrogen and soil moisture appeared to each limit separate response variables in some cases and we did not observe any N × soil moisture interactions. These findings suggest that shallow-rooted species may be more vulnerable to increased drought severity and that increased N availability may disproportionately benefit species without N-fixing abilities. However, mixed support for our hypotheses suggests that environmental conditions and functional traits not evaluated here likely influence subalpine plant responses to soil moisture and N availability.
Slominski, Anthony H. , Zac German, and Laura A. Burkle. "Growth and physiological responses of subalpine forbs to nitrogen and soil moisture: investigating the potential roles of plant functional traits." Plant Ecology 219, no. 8 (June 2018): 941-956. DOI:10.1007/s11258-018-0848-9.