, Volume 126, Issue 2, pp 174-181

Nitrogen uptake and use by competing individuals in a Xanthium canadense stand

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We studied differences in nitrogen uptake and use for plant growth among individuals competing in a natural dense stand of an annual herb, Xanthium canadense. Larger individuals took up more nitrogen than proportionately to their size, indicating that the competition for soil nitrogen was asymmetric among individuals, although it was more symmetric than the competition for light. The rate of nitrogen loss of individuals also increased with plant size. While smaller individuals shared smaller fractions of total plant nitrogen in the stand, they had higher nitrogen concentrations per unit mass. "Turnover" rates of nitrogen influx (r in) and outflux (r out) were defined as the rates of nitrogen uptake and loss per unit aboveground nitrogen, respectively. r in was higher in larger individuals, whereas r out was higher in smaller individuals. Consequently, the relative rate of nitrogen increment (r inr out) was higher in larger individuals, whereas it was around zero in the smallest individuals. The mean residence time of nitrogen (MRT), defined as the inverse of r out, was longer in larger individuals. Nitrogen productivity (NP), i.e. the growth rate per unit aboveground nitrogen, was higher in larger individuals. As the product of lifetime MRT and NP gives the nitrogen use efficiency (NUE), defined as biomass production per unit flux of nitrogen, higher MRT and NP observed in larger individuals would have contributed to their higher lifetime NUE. Shorter MRT in smaller individuals was caused by the abscission of leaves which contained relatively large fractions of total plant nitrogen. Xanthium canadense, as a competitive ruderal, tended to produce leaves at higher positions to acquire higher light levels at the expense of older leaves rather than to modify their productive structure to efficiently use low light levels as observed in shade-tolerant species.