The influence of ammonium nitrate on the root growth and ericoid mycorrhizal colonization of Calluna vulgaris (L.) Hull from a Danish heathland
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Conversion of European heathlands to grassland has been reported as a response to increased nutrient availability, especially of nitrogen; a direct effect upon mycorrhizal colonization has been proposed as an likely explanation.This hypothesis was tested in a random block experiment with four blocks and four replicates on a Danish inland heath, Hjelm Hede. Ammonium nitrate was applied (0, 35, 50 and 70 kg N ha–1 year–1) to a stand of Calluna vulgaris (L.) Hull four times annually for 2 years. Calluna roots were sampled on four occasions in the 2nd year of the nitrogen treatment. The extent of ericoid mycorrhizal colonization was determined by direct observation of the roots using a line-intersection method. The nitrogen content of the current-year shoots of Calluna increased when they were treated with nitrogen. Nitrogen fertilization had no significant effects on ericoid mycorrhizal colonization of Calluna nor on root biomass. The seasonal variation in mycorrhizal colonization of the Calluna roots was highly significant. The spatial variability of mycorrhizal colonization, both in replicated plots and in the two contrasted soil horizons – the mor layer and the bleached sand – within the plots, were considerable. I conclude that heather decline under enhanced nitrogen input is unlikely to be caused by a direct impact on the ericoid mycorrhizae of Calluna.
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