Genotypic Tannin Levels in Populus tremula Impact the Way Nitrogen Enrichment Affects Growth and Allocation Responses for Some Traits and Not for Others
PLoS ONE 2015, 10(10): e0140971
Bandau F, Decker VHG, Gundale MJ, Albrectsen BR

Plant intraspecific variability has been proposed as a key mechanism by which plants adapt to environmental change. In boreal forests where nitrogen availability is strongly limited, nitrogen addition happens indirectly through atmospheric N deposition and directly through industrial forest fertilization. These anthropogenic inputs of N have numerous environmental consequences, including shifts in plant species composition and reductions in plant species diversity. However, we know less about how genetic differences within plant populations determine how species respond to eutrophication in boreal forests. According to plant defense theories, nitrogen addition will cause plants to shift carbon allocation more towards growth and less to chemical defense, potentially enhancing vulnerability to antagonists. Aspens are keystone species in boreal forests that produce condensed tannins to serve as chemical defense. We conducted an experiment using ten Populus tremula genotypes from the Swedish Aspen Collection that express extreme levels of baseline investment into foliar condensed tannins. We investigated whether investment into growth and phenolic defense compounds in young plants varied in response to two nitrogen addition levels, corresponding to atmospheric N deposition and industrial forest fertilization. Nitrogen addition generally caused growth to increase, and tannin levels to decrease; however, individualistic responses among genotypes were found for height growth, biomass of specific tissues, root:shoot ratios, and tissue lignin and N concentrations. A genotype’s baseline ability to produce and store condensed tannins also influenced plant responses to N, although this effect was relatively minor. High-tannin genotypes tended to grow less biomass under low nitrogen levels and more at the highest fertilization level. Thus, the ability in aspen to produce foliar tannins is likely associated with a steeper reaction norm of growth responses, which suggests a higher plasticity to nitrogen addition, and potentially an advantage when adapting to higher concentrations of soil nitrogen.

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