Growth, biomass allocation and plant nitrogen concentration in Chilean temperate rainforest tree seedlings: effects of nutrient availability

Christopher H. Lusk*, Olga Contreras, Javier Figueroa

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    48 Citations (Scopus)


    Seedlings of nine southern Chilean trees were grown at three nutrient supply rates, to examine the roles of growth rate, biomass distribution and nutrient use traits in determining species natural distributions on resource gradients. Relative growth rate (RGR) showed no overall relationship with species site requirements, although RGR of fertile-site species tended to be more responsive to nutrient supply. In the low-nutrient treatment, infertility-tolerant Fitzroya cupressoides showed a higher RGR rank than a fertility-demanding species (Laurelia philippiana) which outgrew it substantially at the highest supply rate. This reversal of RGR ranks was associated with divergent nutrient use responses: at high nutrient supply both spp. had similar plant nitrogen concentrations (PNC), whereas at the low supply rate Fitzroya's production of biomass per unit of assimilated N was twice that of Laurelia's. However, this pattern does not appear to serve as a general explanation of the respective distributions of the study species, as RGR ranks of most species were unaltered by nutrient supply. At low nutrient availability, no clear differences in shoot:root ratio (SRR) were apparent between poor-site and fertile-site species. However, at high nutrient availability, SRR was markedly higher in the latter, resulting from differences in biomass allocation to stems (not leaves). Leaf area ratios (LAR) were higher in fertile-site species than in those tolerant of low fertility, because of differences in specific leaf area rather than leaf weight ratio. Very high LAR at high nutrient supply was characteristic of most shade-tolerant angiosperms, but not of shade-tolerant conifers. Although PNC showed no overall differences between poor- and fertile-site species, sensitivity of PNC to external supply rate was greatest in two infertility- tolerant conifers. In contrast, the angiosperm Weinmania trichosperma, although tolerant of low fertility, responded to increased nutrient supply with greatly increased RGR and little change in PNC. Results show little trait convergence between conifers and angiosperms in adaptation both to shade and to infertile soils; i.e. fitness of different taxa in a given environment may hinge on different trait combinations.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)49-58
    Number of pages10
    Issue number1
    Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 1997


    • Allocation
    • Fitzroya cupressoides
    • Nutrient use efficiency
    • rainforest
    • Relative growth rate
    • Temperate


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