Is phosphorus limiting in a mature Eucalyptus woodland? Phosphorus fertilisation stimulates stem growth
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Few direct tests of phosphorus (P) limitation on highly-weathered soils have been conducted, especially in mature, native Eucalyptus stands. We tested whether growth in a mature >80-year old stand of Eucalyptus tereticornis in Cumberland Plain Woodland was limited by P, and whether this P-limitation affected leaf photosynthetic capacity.
P was added to trees at the native woodland site at 50 kg ha-1 year-1 in each of 3 years, and stem and leaf responses were measured.
Leaf P concentrations before fertilisation were < 1 mg g-1 and N:P ratios ranged between 16 and 23. Addition of 50 kg ha-1 year-1 of P increased leaf P concentration significantly (+50 %) compared to non-fertilised trees, for two but not for the 3 years. Despite higher leaf P in fertilised trees, photosynthetic capacity was unaffected. However, there was a 54 % increase in tree stem basal area growth during the first and second years of P fertilisation, statistically significant in the second year of the experiment.
Our evidence shows that E. tereticornis is P-limited on Cumberland Plain soils. This has implications for forest responses to rising atmospheric [CO2], because photosynthesis in elevated [CO2] may become further constrained by required phosphate pools within the photosynthetic apparatus.
KeywordsEucFACE Basal area increment Eucalyptus tereticornis Leaf N:P ratio Nutrients Photosynthesis Stem growth
The research was supported by the Australian Research Council (ARC Discovery grant DP110105102). EucFACE is supported by the Australian government through the Education Investment Fund administrated by the Dept. of Industry and Science. Burhan Amiji and Marine Guerret are thanked for assistance in the field. Paul Milham and Cassie Mosdal are gratefully acknowledged for help in developing and implementing our method to obtain leaf P concentrations at the Hawkesbury Institute for the Environment. We thank the reviewers of the initial manuscript for providing thoughtful comments that improved the paper.
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