, Volume 29, Issue 4, pp 1069–1078 | Cite as

Interspecific variation in leaf–root differences in δ15N among three tree species grown with either nitrate or ammonium

  • Lee A. Kalcsits
  • Xiangjia Min
  • Robert D. Guy
Original Paper

Key message

Interspecific variation in nitrogen isotope composition of roots and leaves of tree seedlings grown in a steady-state nitrogen environment reflects known variation in sites of assimilation and nitrogen source preference in three tree species.


As a time-integrated measure of nitrogen use, discrimination against the heavier stable isotope (15N) during the uptake and assimilation of inorganic nitrogen has the potential to provide information on interspecific differences in inorganic nitrogen source preference. Here, nitrogen isotope composition (δ15N) at natural abundance was measured for the roots and shoots from seedlings of three forest tree species: Populus tremuloides (aspen), Pinus contorta var. latifolia (pine) and Picea glauca (spruce). The seedlings were grown hydroponically with low (0.1 mM) or high (1.5 mM) concentrations of NO3 or NH4 +, or in sand with NO3 , NH4 + or an equal mix of NO3 and NH4 + (0.1 mM). Whole-plant nitrogen isotope discrimination was observed in hydroponically grown seedlings but not in sand culture. Differences in δ15N between shoots and roots were greater in aspen when grown with NO3 (3.02 ‰) than with NH4 + (1.27 ‰). There were no significant differences between the δ15N of leaves and roots for pine and spruce on either source. Although whole-plant nitrogen isotope discrimination was not observed in sand culture, shoot δ15N was, again, greater than root δ15N for NO3 -grown aspen. Interspecific variation in nitrogen isotope discrimination was observed in both hydroponics and sand culture. The differences in nitrogen isotope composition under steady-state conditions indicate that interspecific differences in nitrogen source preference are consistent with previous experiments using alternative methods to identify differences in nitrogen uptake and assimilation in the same tree species.


Nitrogen Source preference Isotope discrimination Nitrate Ammonium Hydroponics 


Author contribution statement

LAK participated in data analysis and interpretation and drafted the manuscript. XJM participated in experimental design and conducted the experiments. RDG conceived and oversaw the study, participated in analysis and interpretation, and edited the final version of the manuscript.


This work was funded by a Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) Discovery Grant to RDG. LAK was supported by a NSERC Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarship.

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that the research was conducted in the absence of any commercial or financial relationships that could be construed as a potential conflict of interest.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Lee A. Kalcsits
    • 1
    • 2
    • 3
  • Xiangjia Min
    • 1
    • 4
  • Robert D. Guy
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Forest and Conservation SciencesUniversity of British ColumbiaVancouverCanada
  2. 2.Department of Biology, Centre for Forest BiologyUniversity of VictoriaVictoriaCanada
  3. 3.Department of Horticulture, WSU Tree Fruit Research and Extension CenterWashington State UniversityWenatcheeUSA
  4. 4.Department of Biological Sciences, Center for Applied Chemical BiologyYoungstown State UniversityYoungstownUSA

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