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Leaf manganese concentrations as a tool to assess belowground plant functioning in phosphorus-impoverished environments

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Abstract

Background and aims

Root-released carboxylates enhance the availability of manganese (Mn), which enters roots through transporters with low substrate specificity. Leaf Mn concentration ([Mn]) has been proposed as a signature for phosphorus (P)-mobilising carboxylates in the rhizosphere. Here we test whether leaf [Mn] provides a signature for root functional types related to P acquisition.

Methods

Across 727 species at 66 sites in Australia and New Zealand, we measured leaf [Mn] as related to root functional type, while also considering soil and climate variables. To further assess the specific situations under which leaf [Mn] is a suitable proxy for rhizosphere carboxylate concentration, we studied leaf [Mn] along a strong gradient in water availability on one representative site. In addition, we focused on two systems where a species produced unexpected results.

Results

Controlling for background site-specific variation in leaf [Mn] with soil pH and mean annual precipitation, we established that mycorrhizal species have significantly lower leaf [Mn] than non-mycorrhizal species with carboxylate-releasing root structures, e.g., cluster roots. In exception to the general tendency, leaf [Mn] did not provide information about root functional types under seasonally waterlogged conditions, which increase iron availability and thereby interfere with Mn-uptake capacity. Two further exceptions were scrutinised, leading to the conclusion that they were ‘anomalous’ in not functioning like typical species in their families, as expected according to the literature.

Conclusions

Leaf [Mn] variation provides considerable insights on differences in belowground functioning among co-occurring species. Using this approach, we concluded that, within typical mycorrhizal families, some species actually depend on a carboxylate-releasing P-mobilising strategy. Likewise, within families that are known to produce carboxylate-releasing cluster roots, some do not produce functional cluster roots when mature. An analysis of leaf [Mn] can alert us to such ‘anomalous’ species.

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Data availability

The datasets generated and analysed during this study will be available in the AEKOS data repository (http://aekos.org.au/home).

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Acknowledgements

This research was supported by an ARC-funded Discovery Project grant (DP130100005) awarded to HL and supporting CGP and PEH, and by ARC DP120103284 (awarded to IJW and LAC, also supporting EFG). PJB and SJR were funded by the Strategic Science Investment Fund of the NZ Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment’s Science and Innovation Group. CS was funded by the FWF Erwin-Schrödinger Fellowship (J4127).

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Correspondence to Hans Lambers.

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Responsible Editor: Tim S. George.

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Hans Lambers, Ian J. Wright and Caio Guilherme Pereira are joint first authors

William Foulds and Michael W. Shane are Deceased

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Lambers, H., Wright, I.J., Guilherme Pereira, C. et al. Leaf manganese concentrations as a tool to assess belowground plant functioning in phosphorus-impoverished environments. Plant Soil 461, 43–61 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11104-020-04690-2

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s11104-020-04690-2

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