Original Article


, Volume 20, Issue 3, pp 334-339

First online:

Plant morphology and root hydraulics are altered by nutrient deficiency in Pistacia lentiscus (L.)

  • Roman TrubatAffiliated withDepto. de Ecología, U. de Alicante Email author 
  • , Jordi CortinaAffiliated withDepto. de Ecología, U. de Alicante
  • , Alberto VilagrosaAffiliated withFundcion Centro de Estudios Ambientales del Mediterráneo (CEAM), Parque Tecnologico, C/Charles Darwin

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The plants in arid and semiarid areas are often limited by water and nutrients. Morpho-functional adjustments to improve nutrient capture may have important implications on plant water balance, and on plant capacity to withstand drought. Several studies have shown that N and P deficiencies may decrease plant hydraulic conductance. Surprisingly, studies on the implications of nutrient limitations on water use in xerophytes are scarce. We have evaluated the effects of strong reductions in nitrogen and phosphorus availability on morphological traits and hydraulic conductance in seedlings of a common Mediterranean shrub, Pistacia lentiscus L.. Nitrogen deficiency resulted in a decrease in aboveground biomass accumulation, but it did not affect belowground biomass accumulation or root morphology. Phosphorus-deficient plants showed a decrease in leaf area, but no changes in aboveground biomass. Root length, root surface area, and specific root length were higher in phosphorus-deficient plants than in control plants. Nitrogen and phosphorus deficiency reduced both root hydraulic conductance and root hydraulic conductance scaled by total root surface area. On the other hand, nutrient limitations did not significantly affect root conductance per unit of foliar surface area. Thus, adaptation to low nutrient availability did not affect seedling capacity for maintaining water supply to leaves. The implications for drought resistance and survival during seedling establishment in semi-arid environments are discussed.


Drought Root hydraulic conductance Nutrient deficiency Pistacia lentiscus Specific root length