, Volume 86, Issue 2, pp 175-187

Controls over leaf and litter calcium concentrations among temperate trees

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Abstract

Four-fold variation in leaf-litter Ca concentration among 14 tree species growing in a common garden in central Poland was linked to variation in soil pH, exchangeable Ca, soil base saturation, forest floor turnover rates, and earthworm abundance. Given the potential importance of tissue Ca to biogeochemical processes, in this study we investigated potential controls on leaf Ca concentrations using studies of both laboratory seedlings and 30-year-old trees in the field. We first assessed whether species differences in Ca concentration of green leaves and leaf litter were due to differences in Ca uptake, plant growth, or Ca translocation to different organs, by measuring seedlings of 6 of the 14 species grown under controlled conditions of varying Ca supply. We also investigated whether trees species with high Ca concentrations in green leaves and leaf litter access soil Ca to a greater extent than low-Ca species by growing more fine roots in high-Ca soil horizons. Root distribution in the field was determined in all 14 tree species by profile wall mapping and soil sampling of excavated pits. There was no correlation between horizon root count density (number of roots m−2) and exchangeable soil Ca, nor was there a correlation of stand-level leaf litter Ca with density of roots 45–100 cm deep in the soil, suggesting that a deeper root distribution does not result in greater Ca acquisition among these species. Variation among species in leaf Ca concentration of greenhouse seedlings was positively correlated with leaf Ca concentrations of mature trees, indicating that the same ranking in leaf Ca among species existed under controlled Ca supply. Species also differed in seedling growth response to Ca supply. Tilia, the species with the highest leaf Ca in the field, generated only 10% as much biomass and height at low relative to high Ca supply, whereas the other species exhibited no significant differences. Species exhibited differences in (i) partitioning of whole plant Ca and biomass to leaf, stem and root organs and (ii) the pattern of such partitioning between high and low Ca treatments. Our data support the hypothesis that although soil Ca supply can contribute to variation among trees in leaf and litter Ca concentration, innate physiological differences among species also can be a major cause for species variation.