How nutrient availability influences acclimation to shade of two (pioneer and late-successional) Mediterranean tree species?
Examining ecological limits to shade acclimation at whole-plant level is determinant for evaluating the success of sapling establishment in low-light environments. We studied nutritional effects on whole-plant development in response to shade in two Mediterranean forest tree species with different successional status: the early-successional Pinus halepensis Mill. and the late-successional Quercus pubescens Wild. Through a nursery-based factorial experimental design approach, we measured height increment along 2 years and final leaf, stem and root biomass in both species saplings subjected to two lights and two soil nutrient availability treatments. The shade avoidance response was exclusive to P. halepensis, appeared as timely dependent, and persisted longer in saplings exposed to higher nutrient availability. Q. pubescens benefited from the higher nutrient availability by lowering the light-driven plastic response in aerial support investment and belowground carbon allocation, whereas P. halepensis heightened its light-driven plastic response. These contrasted responses are thus clearly related to the shade acclimation strategy of each species: the shade-intolerant P. halepensis enhances shade avoidance when non-nutrient-limited, whereas the shade-tolerant Q. pubescens assumes a conservative strategy by limiting phenotypic plasticity-induced costs. Maintaining greater shade avoidance in non-nutrient-limited soil conditions might be an adaptive advantage for P. halepensis seedlings growing in the understory, in response to gap formation in the overstory. In contrast, the more conservative and less costly shade responsiveness of Q. pubescens may confer it a better adaptive advantage in long-term light-limited environments.
KeywordsPinus halepensis Quercus pubescens Phenotypic plasticity Biomass partitioning Allocation Forest regeneration
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