Plant nutrient-acquisition strategies change with soil age

Hans Lambers, J.A. Raven, G.R. Shaver, S.E. Smith

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    863 Citations (Scopus)


    Nitrogen (N) tends to limit plant productivity on young soils; phosphorus (P) becomes increasingly limiting in ancient soils because it gradually disappears through leaching and erosion. Plant traits that are regarded as adaptations to N- and P-limited conditions include mycorrhizas and cluster roots. Mycorrhizas ‘scavenge’ P from solution or ‘mine’ insoluble organic N. Cluster roots function in severely P-impoverished landscapes, ‘mining’ P fixed as insoluble inorganic phosphates. The ‘scavenging’ and ‘mining’ strategies of mycorrhizal species without and non-mycorrhizal species with cluster roots, respectively, allow functioning on soils that differ markedly in P availability. Based on recent advances in our understanding of these contrasting strategies of nutrient acquisition, we provide an explanation for the distribution of mycorrhizal species on less P-impoverished soils, and for why, globally, cluster-bearing species dominate on severely P-impoverished, ancient soils, where P sensitivity is relatively common.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)95-103
    JournalTrends in Ecology and Evolution
    Issue number2
    Publication statusPublished - 2008


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