The ratio of germanium to silicon in plant phytoliths: quantification of biological discrimination under controlled experimental conditions
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- Blecker, S.W., King, S.L., Derry, L.A. et al. Biogeochemistry (2007) 86: 189. doi:10.1007/s10533-007-9154-7
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Slight differences in the chemical behavior of germanium (Ge) and silicon (Si) during soil weathering enable Ge/Si ratios to be used as a tracer of Si pathways. Mineral weathering and biogenic silicon cycling are the primary modifiers of Ge/Si ratios, but knowledge of the biogenic cycling component is based on relatively few studies. We conducted two sets of greenhouse experiments in order to better quantify the range and variability in Ge discrimination by plants. Graminoid species commonly found in North American grassland systems, Agropyron smithii, Schizachyrium scoparium, and Andropogon gerardii were grown under controlled hydroponic environmental conditions. Silicon leaf contents were positively correlated with solution Si and ambient temperature but not with nutrient solution pH, electrical conductivity, or species. The Ge/Si ratio incorporated into phytoliths shows a distribution coefficient [(Ge/Si)phytolith/(Ge/Si)solution] of about 0.2 and is remarkably invariant between species, photosynthetic pathway, and solution temperature. Ge seems to be discriminated against during the uptake and translocation of Si to the opal deposition sites by about a factor of five. In the second experiment, a wider range of graminoid species (Agropyron smithii, Bouteloua gracilis, Buchloe dactyloides, Oryzopsis hymenoides, Schizachyrium scoparium and Andropogon gerardii) were grown in two different soil mediums. Plant phytoliths showed a distribution factor of about 0.4 for field grown grasses, and 0.6 for potting soil grown grasses with no clear trends among the species. Evidence of the direction and degree of biological Ge discrimination during plant uptake provides a geochemical finger print for plants and improves the utility of Ge/Si ratios in studies of terrestrial weathering and links between Si cycles in terrestrial and marine systems.