Organic nitrogen uptake of Scots pine seedlings is independent of current carbohydrate supply
TREE PHYSIOLOGY 2013; 33(6):590-600
Gruffman L, Palmroth S, Nasholm T

Abstract
In boreal forests, seedling establishment is limited by various factors including soil nitrogen (N) availability. Seedlings may absorb N from soil in a variety of inorganic and organic forms; however, the energy and thus carbohydrate requirements for uptake and assimilation of N vary with N source. We studied the importance of current photoassimilates for the acquisition and allocation of different N sources by Scots pine (Pinus sylvestris (L.)) seedlings. Girdling was used as a tool to impair phloem transport of photoassimilates, and hence gradually deprive roots of carbohydrates. Seedlings were cultivated in a greenhouse on equimolar N concentrations of one of the N sources-arginine, ammonium or nitrate-and then girdled prior to a pulse-chase uptake experiment with isotopically labeled N sources. Girdling proved to be efficient in decreasing levels of soluble sugars and starch in the roots. Uptake rate of arginine N was highest, intermediate for ammonium N and lowest for nitrate N. Moreover, the uptake of arginine N was unaffected by girdling, while the uptake of the two inorganic N sources decreased to 45-56% of the ungirdled controls. In arginine-treated seedlings, 95-96% of the acquired arginine N resided in the roots, whereas a significant shift in the N distribution toward the shoot was evident in girdled seedlings treated with inorganic N. This spatial shift was especially pronounced in nitrate-treated seedlings suggesting that the reduction and following incorporation into roots was limited by the availability of current photoassimilates. These results suggest that there are energetic benefits for seedlings to utilize organic N sources, particularly under circumstances where carbohydrate supply is limited. Hence, these putative benefits might be of importance for the survival and growth of seedlings when carbohydrate reserves are depleted in early growing season, or in light-limited environments, such as those sustained by continuous cover forestry systems.

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