Impact of nutrient heterogeneity on plant response and competition in Coastal plain species

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Virginia Tech

Relationships between nutrient heterogeneity, root foraging behavior and short-term competitive interactions were investigated for six species native to southeastern USA. Monoculture, two- and six-species garden plots were established and fertilized to create spatially homogeneous or heterogeneous nutrient conditions. After 3.5 months, root proliferation in rich patches (precision) and aboveground biomass response to heterogeneity were assessed in monocultures, and competitive outcomes (aboveground biomass) were determined from mixed-species plots. In monoculture plots, two species were relatively precise foragers, but no species showed significant aboveground biomass response to nutrient treatment. Correlations between precision and aboveground biomass were weak (-0.40 < r < 0.17). In two-species plots, interspecific competition was influenced by soil heterogeneity in two of six cases tested (P < 0.05), and precision was the behavior most correlated with competitive success. In six-species plots, spatial pattern of nutrients had no influence on aboveground growth or competition. Results suggest that heterogeneity influences competition, but the influence is context-specific and generally small. Precision may be the foraging behavior that most influences interspecific interactions.

root foraging, nutrient heterogeneity, plant competition, coastal plain species