Growth and Physiological Responses to Fertilizer Application in Clonal Loblolly Pine

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Virginia Tech


More than 20 million clonal loblolly pines have been planted throughout the southeastern United States. Fertilizer has been applied to more than 6.5 million hectares of plantations to alleviate deficiencies of nitrogen and phosphorus that limit growth. Because cloning loblolly pine in large numbers has only become possible in the last decade, it is unknown how clones may respond differently to fertilizer application. Growth, growth efficiency, and biomass partitioning responses to fertilizer application were investigated among 25 clones planted in the Virginia Piedmont. Closely related clones varied in their fertilizer stem volume responses, but not enough to be statistically significant (p = 0.11). Clones varied in growth efficiency and partitioning to individual tissues, but clone-by-fertilizer interactions were not observed. Clonal variability was observed in root morphology, and maximum rooting depth showed a significant clone-by-fertilizer interaction.

Clones with rapid growth rates can be selected with a range of other desirable traits.

Short-term (i.e. weeks) responses to fertilization are often inconsistent with long-term (i.e. years) responses, but are critical to understanding growth responses. We investigated carbon allocation in two full-sibling clones of loblolly pine under two levels of fertilizer application over four months in a greenhouse. Using monthly harvests of some trees and ecophysiological measurements throughout, we determined carbon allocation on a monthly scale. In response to fertilizer application, both clones reduced allocation belowground and increased allocation to foliage to some extent, increasing whole-canopy photosynthetic capacity. However, these changes in allocation were ephemeral. By the end of the experiment, root-shoot ratios were no longer significantly affected by fertilizer application. Clones had allocation patterns distinct from one another, with one allocating more belowground and the other allocating more to stem mass. While their overall growth responses to fertilizer application were similar, the physiological mechanisms that resulted in these responses were different between clones.

Results of the two studies indicate that while fertilizer responses may not need to be included when testing clones for deployment, knowledge of the fertilizer responses of widely-deployed clones would offer forest managers opportunities to apply clone-specific precision-silvicultural systems to optimize growth rates and manage for a range of products.



photosynthesis, allometry, carbon allocation, plantation forestry, respiration