, Volume 168, Issue 2, pp 311–319 | Cite as

Nutrients limit photosynthesis in seedlings of a lowland tropical forest tree species

  • S. C. Pasquini
  • L. S. SantiagoEmail author
Physiological ecology - Original Paper


We investigated how photosynthesis by understory seedlings of the lowland tropical tree species Alseis blackiana responded to 10 years of soil nutrient fertilization with N, P and K. We ask whether nutrients are limiting to light and CO2 acquisition in a low light understory environment. We measured foliar nutrient concentrations of N, P and K, isotopic composition of carbon (δ13C) and nitrogen (δ15N), and light response curves of photosynthesis and chlorophyll fluorescence. Canopy openness was measured above each study seedling and included in statistical analyses to account for variation in light availability. Foliar N concentration increased by 20% with N addition. Foliar P concentration increased by 78% with P addition and decreased by 14% with N addition. Foliar K increased by 8% with K addition. Foliar δ13C showed no significant responses, and foliar δ15N decreased strongly with N addition, matching the low δ15N values of applied fertilizer. Canopy openness ranged from 0.01 to 6.71% with a mean of 1.76 ± 0.14 (±1SE). Maximum photosynthetic CO2 assimilation rate increased by 9% with N addition. Stomatal conductance increased with P addition and with P and K in combination. Chlorophyll fluorescence measurements revealed that quantum yield of photosystem II increased with K addition, maximum electron transport rate trended 9% greater with N addition (p = 0.07), and saturating photosynthetically active radiation increased with N addition. The results demonstrate that nutrient addition can enhance photosynthetic processes, even under low light availability.


Fertilization Nitrogen isotope Panama Phosphorus Potassium 



We gratefully thank Omar Hernández and Rufino González of the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI) for their dedication in the field, Caroline DeVan, Lee Buckingham, Jeffrey Ambriz and Jenessa Stemke of the University of California, Riverside (UCR) for field or laboratory assistance, Klaus Winter and Joe Wright of STRI for advice on field measurements, Jim Sickman and Dee Lucero of FIRMS for assistance with stable isotope measurements. Partial funding was provided by the Botany & Plant Sciences Department at UCR, a STRI Short-term Fellowship to Sarah Pasquini, and a UC Regent’s Faculty Fellowship and NSF grant DEB-07706813 to Lou Santiago.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Botany and Plant SciencesUniversity of CaliforniaRiversideUSA
  2. 2.Facility for Isotope Ratio Mass Spectrometry (FIRMS), Center for Conservation BiologyUniversity of CaliforniaRiversideUSA

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