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Background and aimsProteaceae are a prominent plant family in south-western Australia. Most Proteaceae are 'calcifuge', occurring exclusively on old phosphorus (P)-impoverished acidic soils, with a few 'soil-indifferent' species also found on young P-richer calcareous soils. Calcium (Ca)-enhanced P toxicity explains the calcifuge habit of Proteaceae. However, previous research has so far been focused exclusively on the roles of Ca and P in determining Proteaceae distribution, and consequently there is little knowledge on how other soil-based strategies influence this distribution. We aimed to study the effects of young calcareous soils on four soil-grown Proteaceae and assess differences between calcifuge and soil-indifferent Proteaceae to better understand their natural distribution.MethodsTwo calcifuge and two soil-indifferent Proteaceae from south-western Australia were grown in six contrasting soils, including young calcareous, and old acidic soils.ResultsWhen grown in calcareous soils all species showed root growth inhibition, micronutrient deficiency, Ca-enhanced P toxicity, and negative impacts on physiology. Calcifuge species were more sensitive to calcareous soils than soil-indifferent ones, although this varied between genera. Soil-indifferent species tended to produce more cluster roots, release more carboxylates per root mass, and allocate less Ca to their leaves, compared with calcifuges; they also had smaller seeds and were less sensitive to Ca-enhanced P toxicity.ConclusionWe surmise that a combination of these traits allows soil-indifferent species to tolerate calcareous soils. This study provides insight into how Proteaceae respond to young calcareous soils and how this influences their distribution.
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