Stoichiometry of ferns in Hawaii: implications for nutrient cycling
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- Amatangelo, K.L. & Vitousek, P.M. Oecologia (2008) 157: 619. doi:10.1007/s00442-008-1108-9
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We asked if element concentrations in ferns differ systematically from those in woody dicots in ways that could influence ecosystem properties and processes. Phylogenetically, ferns are deeply separated from angiosperms; for our analyses we additionally separated leptosporangiate ferns into polypod ferns, a monophyletic clade of ferns which radiated after the rise of angiosperms, and all other leptosporangiate (non-polypod) ferns. We sampled both non-polypod and polypod ferns on a natural fertility gradient and within fertilized and unfertilized plots in Hawaii, and compared our data with shrub and tree samples collected previously in the same plots. Non-polypod ferns in particular had low Ca concentrations under all conditions and less plasticity in their N and P stoichiometry than did polypod ferns or dicots. Polypod ferns were particularly rich in N and P, with low N:P ratios, and their stoichiometry varied substantially in response to differences in nutrient availability. Distinguishing between these two groups has the potential to be useful both in and out of Hawaii, as they have distinct properties which can affect ecosystem function. These differences could contribute to the widespread abundance of polypod ferns in an angiosperm-dominated world, and to patterns of nutrient cycling and limitation in sites where ferns are abundant.