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Autumnal changes in tissue nitrogen of autumn olive, black alder and eastern cottonwood

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Two experiments were conducted to determine patterns of N change in tissues of autumn olive (Elaeagnus umbellata Thunb.) and black alder (Alnus glutinosa [L.] Gaertn.) during autumn in central Illinois, U.S.A. In the first study leaf nitrogen concentrations of autumn olive decreased 40% at an infertile minespoil site and 39% at a fertile prairie site throughout autumn whereas nitrogen concentrations in respective bark samples increased by 39% and 37%. Salt-extractable protein concentrations increased in bark and decreased in leaves over the sampling period. Free amino acid concentrations of autumn olive leaves decreased over the course of the experiment from peak concentrations in August. Asparagine, glutamic acid and proline were major constituents of the free amino acid pools in leaves. Total phosphorus concentrations of autumn olive leaves declined by 40–46% during autumn while bark concentrations of P did not significantly change.

In the second experiment non-nodulated seedlings of alder receiving a low level of N-fertilization did not exhibit net resorption of leaf N during autumn whereas foliar N concentration of contrasting nonactinorhizal cottonwood plants (Populus deltoides Bartr. ex. Marsh) under the same fertilization regime decreased by 27% after the first frost. A gradual but significant decrease of 38% in foliar N concentration of nodulated alder seedlings grown under a low N-fertilization regime was associated with the cessation of nitrogenase activity during autumn in nodules. Compared with the low N fertilization regime, the higher level of N-fertilization resulted in smaller autumnal decreases of foliar N concentration in nodulated alder (17%) and in cottonwood (20%); but there was no decrease in foliar N concentration in non-nodulated alder. The higher level of N-fertilization promoted a greater accumulation of N in the roots than in the bark of both tree species after the first frost.

Our results suggest that black alder lackingFrankia symbionts does not exhibit net leaf N resorption and that autumnal decreases in leaf N ofFrankia-nodulated black alder result primarily from declining foliar N import relative to export due to low temperature inhibition of N2 fixation. In contrast, autumn olive exhibited greater and more precipitous autumnal declines in foliar N concentration than those of alder, and the pattern of N decline was unaffected by site fertility.

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Côté, B., Vogel, C.S. & Dawson, J.O. Autumnal changes in tissue nitrogen of autumn olive, black alder and eastern cottonwood. Plant Soil 118, 23–32 (1989). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF02232787

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Key words

  • acetylene reduction
  • Alnus glutinosa
  • amino acids
  • Elaeagnus umbellata
  • N2 fixation
  • nitrogenase activity
  • Populus deltoides
  • resorption
  • salt-extractable protein
  • translocation