, Volume 15, Issue 2, pp 91-98
Date: 30 Sep 2009

Foraging ability and growth performance of four subtropical tree species in response to heterogeneous nutrient environments

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Considering the ubiquitous heterogeneity in spatial distribution of soil nutrients, we conducted a pot experiment to investigate the foraging traits and growth performance of four important subtropical tree species in a heterogeneous nutrient environment. The tested species exhibited large differences in foraging traits as well as growth benefits obtained from root foraging. Pinus massoniana, Schima superba and Liriodendron chinese all showed a higher degree of root morphological plasticity (expressed as relative fine root mass difference; RFRMD) than Cunninghami lanceolata (P < 0.05). P. massoniana exhibited the largest degree of morphological plasticity, followed by L. chinese and S. superba, whereas there were no significant differences in RFRMD among the three species. S. superba was the only species that exhibiting both morphological plasticity and physiological plasticity. Both P. massoniana and S. superba exhibited greater whole-seedling biomass and high sensitivity in response to nutrient heterogeneity, resulting from both types of plasticity. In contrast, both types of root plasticity were poor for C. lanceolata, resulting in poor growth benefit in heterogeneous environments. As for L. chinese, the root proliferation in nutrient-rich patches occurred at the expense of depressed root growth in other parts of the root system, leading to the lack of increment in total root biomass and nutrient absorption in heterogeneous environments. Our results provide insight and practical advice for silviculture and forest management.