Newly planted seedlings incur transplant stress resulting from poor root-soil contact, which limits access to soil moisture and nutrients and reduces growth for one or more growing seasons. Controlled release fertilizer (CRF) applied at planting may reduce transplant stress by augmenting rhizosphere nutrient availability yet with potential risk of root system damage due to elevated fertilizer salt concentrations, which may be further exacerbated by drought. Under controlled conditions, we examined northern red oak (Quercus rubra L.) leaf physiological parameters and soluble sugar concentrations in response to varying nutrient levels (via CRF application) and moisture availability gradients ranging from drought to flooding. Net photosynthetic rates, transpiration rates, and chlorophyll fluorescence parameters responded positively to CRF application, and no interactions were observed between CRF and moisture availability; however, CRF did not increase soluble sugar concentrations. No effects of short-term drought were observed, but flooding exerted a rapid negative influence on net photosynthetic rates, transpiration rates, and chlorophyll fluorescence parameters; flooding also elevated soluble sugar concentrations, indicative of disrupted carbon partitioning and a much greater sensitivity to root-zone hypoxia than to drought in this species. Lack of interactions between CRF application and soil moisture availability indicates relatively similar responses of fertilized seedlings across moisture gradients.
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We thank Suzanne Cunningham and Jeff Volenec for instruction in the analysis of plant carbohydrates, advice, technical assistance, and for generously allowing the use of their lab for parts of this experiment; Jim McKenna for the generous contribution of seedlings for use in this experiment; Charles Michler for assistance in acquisition of critical analytical equipment; and Derek Heacock and Miranda Vogel for their contributions of time and technical assistance.
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