Nutrient resorption patterns of plant functional groups in a tropical savanna: variation and functional significance
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Green and senesced leaf nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P) concentrations of different plant functional groups in savanna communities of Kruger National Park, South Africa were analyzed to determine if nutrient resorption was regulated by plant nutritional status and foliar N:P ratios. The N and P concentrations in green leaves and the N concentrations in senesced leaves differed significantly between the dominant plant functional groups in these savannas: fine-leaved trees, broad-leaved trees and grasses. However, all three functional groups reduced P to comparable and very low levels in senesced leaves, suggesting that P was tightly conserved in this tropical semi-arid savanna ecosystem. Across all functional groups, there was evidence for nutritional control of resorption in this system, with both N and P resorption efficiencies decreasing as green leaf nutrient concentrations increased. However, specific patterns of resorption and the functional relationships between nutrient concentrations in green and senesced leaves varied by nutrient and plant functional group. Functional relationships between N concentrations in green and senesced leaves were indistinguishable between the dominant groups, suggesting that variation in N resorption efficiency was largely the result of inter-life form differences in green leaf N concentrations. In contrast, observed differences in P resorption efficiencies between life forms appear to be the result of both differences in green leaf P concentrations as well as inherent differences between life forms in the fraction of green leaf P resorbed from senescing leaves. Our results indicate that foliar N:P ratios are poor predictors of resorption efficiency in this ecosystem, in contrast to N and P resorption proficiencies, which are more responsive to foliar N:P ratios.