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Nitrogen transfer between plant species with different temporal N-demand

Montesinos-Navarro, A.. 2023. John Wiley & Sons Ltd.


Phenological segregation among species in a community is assumed to promote coexistence, as using resources at different times reduces competition. However, other unexplored nonalternative mechanisms can also result in a similar outcome. This study first tests whether plants can redistribute nitrogen (N) among them based on their nutritional temporal demand (i.e. phenology). Field 15N labelling experiments showed that 15N is transferred between neighbour plants, mainly from low N- demand (late flowering species, not reproducing yet) to high N- demand plants (early flowering species, currently flowering-fruiting). This can reduce species' dependence on pulses of water availability, and avoid soil N loss through leaching, having relevant implications in the structuring of plant communities and ecosystem functioning. Considering that species phenological segregation is a pervasive pattern in plant communities, this can be a so far unnoticed, but widely spread, ecological process that can predict N fluxes among species in natural communities, and therefore impact our current understanding of community ecology and ecosystem functioning.

Key Words

gypsum outcrop, nutrient exchange, phenology, plant community ecology, plant-plant interactions, semi-arid scrubland