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Some plant species use different strategies to acquire phosphorus (P) dependent on environmental conditions, but studies investigating the relative significance of P-acquisition strategies with changing P availability are rare. We combined a natural P availability gradient and a glasshouse study with 10 levels of P supplies to investigate the roles of rhizosphere carboxylates and transpiration-driven mass flow in P acquisition by Agonis flexuosa. Leaf P concentrations of A. flexuosa decreased and leaf manganese (Mn) concentrations increased with decreasing soil P concentration along a dune chronosequence. In the glasshouse, in response to decreasing P supply, shoot growth and root length decreased, leaf P and Mn concentrations decreased, rhizosphere carboxylates decreased, transpiration rate and transpiration ratio increased and the percentage of root length colonized by arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi was unchanged. Although it was proved leaf Mn concentration was a good proxy for rhizosphere carboxylate amounts in the glasshouse study, the enhanced plant P acquisition at low P supply was related to transpiration-induced mass flow rather than carboxylates. We deduced that the higher leaf Mn concentrations in low soil P availability of the field were likely a result of increased mass flow. In summary, as soil P availability declined, A. flexuosa can shift its P-acquisition strategy away from a mycorrhizal mode towards one involving increased mass flow.
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