Root and leaf attributes accounting for the performance of fast- and slow-growing grasses at different nutrient supply

Peter Ryser, Hans Lambers

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

311 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Despite their difference in potential growth rate, the slow-growing Brachypodium pinnatum and the fast-growing Dactylis glomerata co-occur in many nutrient-poor calcareous grasslands. They are known to respond differently to increasing levels of N and P. An experiment was designed to measure which characteristics are affected by nutrient supply and contribute to the ecological performance of these species. Nutrient acquisition and root and shoot traits of these grasses were studied in a garden experiment with nine nutrient treatments in a factorial design of 3 N and 3 P levels each. D. glomerata was superior to B. pinnatum in nutrient acquisition and growth in all treatments. B. pinnatum was especially poor in P acquisition. Both species responded to increasing N supply and to a lesser extent to increasing P supply by decreasing their root length and increasing their leaf area per total plant weight. D. glomerata showed a higher plasticity. In most treatments, the root length ratio (RLR) and the leaf area ratio (LAR) were higher for D. glomerata. A factorization of these parameters into components expressing biomass allocation, form (root fineness or leaf thickness) and density (dry matter content) shows that the low density of the biomass of D. glomerata was the main cause for the higher RLR and LAR. The biomass allocation to the roots showed a considerable plasticity but did not differ between the species. B. pinnatum had the highest leaf weight ratio. Root fineness was highly plastic in D. glomerata, the difference with B. pinnatum being mainly due to the thick roots of D. glomerata at high nutrient supply. The leaf area/leaf fresh weight ratio did not show any plasticity and was slightly higher for B. pinnatum. It is concluded, that the low density of the biomass of D. glomerata is the pivotal trait responsible for its faster growth at all nutrient levels. It enables simultaneously a good nutrient acquisition capacity by the roots as well as a superior carbon acquisition by the leaves. The high biomass density of B. pinnatum will then result in a lower nutrient requirement due to a slower turnover, which in the long term is advantageous under nutrient-poor conditions.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)251-265
Number of pages15
JournalPlant and Soil
Volume170
Issue number2
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 1995
Externally publishedYes

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