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Biomass allocation and nutrient use efficiency in response to water stress: insight from experimental manipulation of balsam fir, concolor fir and white pine transplants

Abstract

Plants under water stress alter their normal morphological and physiological processes. However, biomass allocation and nutrient use efficiency remain largely unknown under the interactive effect of irrigation and fertilization for many economically important conifer species. In this study, we compared biomass allocation and resources use efficiency of two-year-old (plug+1) containerized balsam fir [Abies balsamea (L) Mill.] ‘Cooks’ and concolor fir [Abies concolor (Gord. & Glend.) Lindl. Ex Hildebr.] ‘Cibola’, and one-year-old bare-root white pine [Pinus strobus L.] transplants grown under variable watering and fertilization conditions. In a controlled greenhouse setting, transplants were submitted to three irrigation levels and two fertilization rates in a factorial experimental design. Fir species, mainly concolor fir, had a greater capacity to utilize water resulting in decreased stem water potential than white pine, leading to increased aboveground growth and shoot-to-root (S/R) ratio. White pine transplants had a higher assimilatory nutrient efficiency, nutrient use efficiency (NUE), root weight ratio, and a lower nitrogen availability index than the two fir species, suggesting a better ability to tolerate water stress. The high rates of fertilization increased nutrient concentration more than growth, suggesting luxury consumption. These results indicate that white pine responds to drought stress by closing their stomata and decreasing their S/R ratio to limit physiological activities, while the two fir species exhibit increased water uptake via expanded fine root networks, increasing the NUE and S/R ratio. However, there was no clear trend for the irrigation and fertilization interaction for NUE for three species, making it difficult to generalize responses.

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Acknowledgements

This paper is in part of İsmail Koç’s dissertation in the Department of Forestry, Michigan State University. We thank Randy Klevickas and Paul Bloese, managers in Tree Research Center, for their assistance on greenhouse managements. We also thank Patrick Shults, Chad Papa, and lab assistants for their help in the lab.

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The Republic of Turkey and MSU AgBioResearch/USDA McIntire-Stennis.

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İsmail Koç conceived, designed the experiment, analyzed the data and wrote the original manuscript. Pascal Nzokou supervised each stage of the experiment, reviewed and edited the original manuscript. Bert Cregg reviewed and edited original manuscript. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.

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Correspondence to İsmail Koç.

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Koç, İ., Nzokou, P. & Cregg, B. Biomass allocation and nutrient use efficiency in response to water stress: insight from experimental manipulation of balsam fir, concolor fir and white pine transplants. New Forests (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11056-021-09894-7

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Keywords

  • Abies balsamea
  • Abies concolor
  • Biomass allocation
  • Nutrient use efficiency
  • Pinus strobus
  • Water stress