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Over 650 Proteaceae occur in south-western Australia, contributing to the region's exceptionally high biodiversity. Most Proteaceae occur exclusively on severely nutrient-impoverished, acidic soils (calcifuge), whilst only few also occur on young, calcareous soils (soil-indifferent), higher in calcium (Ca) and phosphorus (P). The calcifuge habit of Proteaceae is explained by Ca-enhanced P toxicity, putatively linked to the leaf cell-specific allocation of Ca and P. Separation of these elements is essential to avoid the deleterious precipitation of Ca-phosphate. We used quantitative X-ray microanalysis to determine leaf cell-specific nutrient concentrations of two calcifuge and two soil-indifferent Proteaceae grown in hydroponics at a range of Ca and P concentrations. Calcium enhanced the preferential allocation of P to palisade mesophyll (PM) cells under high P conditions, without a significant change in whole leaf [P]. Calcifuges showed a greater PM [P] compared with soil-indifferent species, corresponding to their greater sensitivity. This study advances our mechanistic understanding of Ca-enhanced P toxicity, supporting the proposed model, and demonstrating its role in the calcifuge distribution of Proteaceae. This furthers our understanding of nutrient interactions at the cellular level and highlights its importance to plant functioning.
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