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A comparison of phosphorus and nitrogen transfer between plants of different phosphorus status

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This study has two objections: (1) to compare transfers of phosphorus (32P) with nitrogen (15N) from undefoliated and defoliated mycorrhizal P-rich plants to an adjacent mycorrhizal plant and (2) to determine whether the improved nutrient status of a plant growing with a nutrient-rich plant is due primarily to movement of nutrients from roots of its nutrient-rich neighbor (= nutrient transfer) or to reduced nutrient uptake by its nutrient-rich neighbor (=shift in competition). Two plants of Plantago lanceolata were grown in a three-pot unit in which each of their root systems were split, with part in the central shared pot and part by themselves in an outside pot. There were three treatments: (1) no added P; (2) P added in the outer pot to only plant, termed the “donor” plant, since it might provide P to the companion plant, acting as a “receiver”; and (3) as in the previous treatment but the P-fertilized donor plant was also clipped. To encourage the formation of hyphal links between roots of the different plants, transfers were determined when root length densities were high (90 to 130 cm cm-3 soil) and when 56 to 85% of the root length was infected with vesicular-arbuscular mycorrhizae. Phosphorus fertilization enhanced P but not N movement within donor plants. Regardless of treatment, N transfer from donor to receiver plants was an order of magnitude greater than P transfer and in amounts that could potentially affect plant nutrition in very infertile soils. Phosphorus transfer was very small in any of the treatments. Although P fertilization and clipping improved P status of receiver plants, P transfer was not indicated as the main reason for the improved nutrition. A shift in competition between donor and receiver plants was likely the major factor in the shift in nutrition of the receiver plants.

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Eissenstat, D.M. A comparison of phosphorus and nitrogen transfer between plants of different phosphorus status. Oecologia 82, 342–347 (1990). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF00317481

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