Plants of different growth form may utilize soil nutrients in various spatial distributions through different scales of foraging. In this study we evaluated the ability of 6 species commonly found in the Great Basin to utilize nitrogen (N) distributed in different patterns. Three growth forms were represented by these 6 species.
We applied 15N-labeled nitrogen in concentrated patches and over broader uniform areas (at approximately 1% the concentration of the patches) in large, outdoor sand-culture plots. Six weeks after N was applied, 2 plants adjacent to the patch (Patch Treatment) and 2 plants within the uniform application (Uniform Treatment) were harvested. One plant 35–45 cm from both applications (Distant Treatment) was also harvested. The proportion of application-derived N in the leaf N pool was calculated and the mass of N this represented was estimated.
Winter annual species Aegilops cylindrical and Bromus tectorum utilized the concentrated patches to a greater extent than did perennial species. The mass of N acquired by Patch-Treatment annual plants was significantly greater than by Uniform- and Distant-Treatment plants. Annual plants in the Distant Treatment had very little application-derived N in their leaf tissue. The perennial tussock grasses Agropyron desertorum and Pseudoroegneria spicata differed in utilization of the N applications. Agropyron acquired a greater quantity of N from patches than from uniform applications, and Distant-Treatment plants acquired very little from treatment applications. On the other hand, Pseudoroegneria utilized N in the 3 treatments equally. The shrub species Artemisia tridentata ssp. vaseyana and Chrysothamnus nauseosus also differed in their pattern of N acquisition. There were no differences in quantity of N acquired by plants from different treatments for Chrysothamnus; all treatment plants acquired appreciable amounts of N from the applications. In contrast, Artemisia tridentata was very effective at acquiring large quantities of N from patches relative to Uniform- and Distant-Treatment plants, and yet there was still appreciable acquisition of applied N by Distant-Treatment Artemisia plants.
We compared our results for these species in utilizing N patches with their ability to utilize N pulses (Bilbrough and Caldwell 1997). The annual grasses, Artemisia, and Agropyron were capable of effectively acquiring N from both pulses and patches, whereas Pseudoroegneria was effective in exploiting pulses but not patches. Chrysothamnus was generally not responsive to either patches or pulses.
Our results suggest that the 2 shrubs and 2 perennial grasses differed in the scale at which they foraged for nutrients. Some species exhibited a coarse-scale utilization of nutrients while others were clearly capable of fine-scale utilization of spatially distributed nutrient sources. This suggests the potential for at least some spatial niche separation among these species.
Duke, Sara E. and Caldwell, Martyn M.
"Nitrogen acquisition from different spatial distributions by six Great Basin plant species,"
Western North American Naturalist: Vol. 61
, Article 12.
Available at: http://scholarsarchive.byu.edu/wnan/vol61/iss1/12