Plant uptake of nitrogen and phosphorus among grassland species affected by drought along a soil available phosphorus gradient

  • Pierre MariotteEmail author
  • Tom Cresswell
  • Mathew P. Johansen
  • Jennifer J. Harrison
  • Claudia Keitel
  • Feike A. Dijkstra
Regular Article



Here we assessed N and P uptake of four grassland species grown together in response to a short-term drought event along a soil P gradient.


We used 15N and 32P tracers to examine uptake of N and P by the grasses Bothriochloa macra, Themeda triandra, Lolium perenne and Microlaena stipoides grown together in pots with initial available P levels of 3, 8, 12, 20 mg P kg−1 soil. Soil moisture in half the pots was reduced from 60 to 30% water holding capacity during a 7-day period to simulate drought.


Plant P uptake was strongly reduced by drought in all species across all P levels, much more so than N uptake, indicating decoupling in N and P uptake. Soil available P (Bray method) was not affected by drought, suggesting that the reduced P uptake with drought was due to reduced soil P mobility. Plant competition for N and P changed with drought and soil P levels, where relatively more N and P was taken up with drought by M. stipoides at the lowest soil P level.


We showed that greater reductions in P than in N uptake and shifts in N and P uptake among species caused by a short-term drought have strong consequences for plant growth.


Grassland species Nutrient homeostasis Nutrient limitation Nutrient stoichiometry Plant nutrient uptake Stable isotope labelling Water stress 



This study was supported by an Australian Institute of Nuclear Science and Engineering Research Award (ALNGRA15209) awarded to FAD in 2015. PM was funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation (n°P300P3_154648).

Supplementary material

11104_2019_4407_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (485 kb)
ESM 1 (PDF 484 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2020

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Sydney Institute of Agriculture, School of Life and Environmental SciencesThe University of SydneyCamdenAustralia
  2. 2.Agroscope, Grazing Systems GroupNyonSwitzerland
  3. 3.Australia’s Nuclear Science and Technology OrganisationLucas HeightsAustralia

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