, Volume 96, Issue 4, pp 548-554

Phenotypic plasticity in response to nitrate supply of an inherently fast-growing species from a fertile habitat and an inherently slow-growing species from an infertile habitat

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Abstract

The aim of the present study was to investigate possible differences in plasticity between a potentially fast-growing and a potentially slow-growing grass species. To this end, Holcus lanatus (L.) and Deschampsia flexuosa (L.) Trin., associated with fertile and infertile habitats, respectively, were grown in sand at eight nitrate concentrations. When plants obtained a fresh weight of approximately 5 g, biomass allocation, specific leaf area, the rate of net photosynthesis, the organic nitrogen concentration of various plant parts and the root weight at different soil depths were determined. There were linear relationships between the morphological and physiological features studied and the In-transformed nitrate concentration supplied, except for the specific leaf area and root nitrogen concentration of H. lanatus, which did not respond to the nitrate concentration. The root biomass of H. lanatus was invariably distributed over the soil layers than that of D. flexuosa. However, D. flexuosa allocated more root biomass to lower soil depths with decreasing nitrate concentration, in contrast to H. lanatus, which did not respond. The relative response to nitrate supply, i.e. the value of a character at a certain nitrate level relative to the value of that character at the highest nitrate supply, was used as a measure for plasticity. For a number of parameters (leaf area ratio, root weight ratio, root nitrogen concentration, vertical root biomass distribution and rate of net photosynthesis per unit leaf weight) the potentially slow-growing D. flexuosa exhibited a higher phenotypic plasticity than the potentially fast-growing H. lanatus. These findings are in disagreement with current literature. Possible explanations for this discrepancy are discussed in terms of differences in experimental approach as well as fundamental differences in specific traits between fast- and slow-growing grasses.