, Volume 167, Issue 2, pp 355–368 | Cite as

Effects of nutrient addition on leaf chemistry, morphology, and photosynthetic capacity of three bog shrubs

  • Jill L. Bubier
  • Rose Smith
  • Sari Juutinen
  • Tim R. Moore
  • Rakesh Minocha
  • Stephanie Long
  • Subhash Minocha
Physiological ecology - Original Paper


Plants in nutrient-poor environments typically have low foliar nitrogen (N) concentrations, long-lived tissues with leaf traits designed to use nutrients efficiently, and low rates of photosynthesis. We postulated that increasing N availability due to atmospheric deposition would increase photosynthetic capacity, foliar N, and specific leaf area (SLA) of bog shrubs. We measured photosynthesis, foliar chemistry and leaf morphology in three ericaceous shrubs (Vaccinium myrtilloides, Ledum groenlandicum and Chamaedaphne calyculata) in a long-term fertilization experiment at Mer Bleue bog, Ontario, Canada, with a background deposition of 0.8 g N m−2 a−1. While biomass and chlorophyll concentrations increased in the highest nutrient treatment for C. calyculata, we found no change in the rates of light-saturated photosynthesis (A max), carboxylation (V cmax), or SLA with nutrient (N with and without PK) addition, with the exception of a weak positive correlation between foliar N and A max for C. calyculata, and higher V cmax in L. groenlandicum with low nutrient addition. We found negative correlations between photosynthetic N use efficiency (PNUE) and foliar N, accompanied by a species-specific increase in one or more amino acids, which may be a sign of excess N availability and/or a mechanism to reduce ammonium (NH4) toxicity. We also observed a decrease in foliar soluble Ca and Mg concentrations, essential minerals for plant growth, but no change in polyamines, indicators of physiological stress under conditions of high N accumulation. These results suggest that plants adapted to low-nutrient environments do not shift their resource allocation to photosynthetic processes, even after reaching N sufficiency, but instead store the excess N in organic compounds for future use. In the long term, bog species may not be able to take advantage of elevated nutrients, resulting in them being replaced by species that are better adapted to a higher nutrient environment.


N deposition Nutrient use efficiency Amino acids Ammonium toxicity Peatland Polyamines 



We appreciate the support from a National Science Foundation award (DEB 0346625) to Jill Bubier, a Howard Hughes Medical Institute research fellowship to Rose Smith, Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council discovery grants to Tim Moore, and thank the National Capital Commission for access to Mer Bleue Bog. This article was also supported by the New Hampshire Agricultural Experiment Station and is scientific contribution no. 2426 from the NHAES. We thank Elyn Humphreys for sharing microclimate data and providing laboratory facilities at Carleton University, and Leszek Bledzki, Lisa Brunie, Mike Dalva, Meaghan Murphy, Nigel Roulet, and Paliza Shrestha for assistance in the field and laboratory work at Mount Holyoke College and McGill University. We thank George Cobb, Martha Hoopes, Aaron Ellison and Kevin Griffin for valuable discussions at various stages of this work.

Supplementary material

442_2011_1998_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (32 kb)
Sample size (n), F statistic (Wilk’s Lambda), and P value in multivariate ANOVA of leaves measured for photosynthesis, N concentration, and foliar biochemistry (PDF 32 kb)
442_2011_1998_MOESM2_ESM.pdf (97 kb)
Proportions of individual amino acid concentrations (nmol g−1 DW) by species and treatment. Zero values indicate no measurable amino acids for that species (PDF 98 kb)
442_2011_1998_MOESM3_ESM.pdf (7 kb)
Foliar concentrations (mean ± SE) of polyamines for the three species (PDF 7 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jill L. Bubier
    • 1
  • Rose Smith
    • 1
    • 5
  • Sari Juutinen
    • 1
    • 6
  • Tim R. Moore
    • 2
  • Rakesh Minocha
    • 3
  • Stephanie Long
    • 3
  • Subhash Minocha
    • 4
  1. 1.Environmental Studies ProgramMount Holyoke CollegeSouth HadleyUSA
  2. 2.Department of Geography, Global Environmental & Climate Change CentreMcGill UniversityMontrealCanada
  3. 3.US Department of Agriculture, Forest ServiceNorthern Research StationDurhamUSA
  4. 4.Department of Biological SciencesUniversity of New HampshireDurhamUSA
  5. 5.Ecosystems CenterWoods HoleUSA
  6. 6.Department of Forest SciencesUniversity of HelsinkiUniversity of HelsinkiFinland

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