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During long-term ecosystem development and its associated decline in soil phosphorus (P) availability, the abundance of mycorrhizal plant species declines at the expense of non-mycorrhizal species with root specialisations for P-acquisition, such as massive exudation of carboxylates. Leaf manganese (Mn) concentration has been suggested as a proxy for such a strategy, Mn concentration being higher in non-mycorrhizal plants that release carboxylates than in mycorrhizal plants. Shifts in nitrogen (N)-acquisition strategies also occur; nodulation in legumes is expected at low N availability, when sufficient P is available. We investigated whether two congeneric legume species (Bossiaea linophylla and Bossiaea eriocarpa) occurring along two long-term chronosequences on the south-western Australian coast and grown in a glasshouse at varying N and P supply exhibited plasticity in nutrient-acquisition strategies. We hypothesised that the shifts in nutrient limitation and nutrient-acquisition strategies at the community level would also be found at the species level. Leaf N: P ratios and the responses to nutrient availability suggested that growth of both species exhibited P-limitation in all treatments, due to the very high leaf [N] of legumes afforded by symbiotic N-fixation. Mycorrhizal colonisation was not greater at higher P supply, and root exudation of carboxylates was not stimulated at low P supply; both were unrelated to leaf [Mn]. However, nodule production declined with increasing N supply. We conclude that intraspecific variation in nutrient-acquisition and use is low in these species, and that the variation at the community level, observed in previous studies, is likely driven by high-species turnover.
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