European aspen with high compared to low constitutive tannin defenses grow taller in response to anthropogenic nitrogen enrichment
Forest Ecology and Management 2021, 487, 118985
Bandau F, Albrectsen BA, Robinson KM, Gundale MJ
Boreal forests receive nitrogen-(N)-enrichment via atmospheric deposition and industrial fertilization. While it is known that N-enrichment can intensify interactions with natural antagonists, it remains poorly understood how genetic variability in plant defense chemistry can affect biotic interactions and height growth in N-enriched environments. We grew replicates of five low- and high-tannin Populus tremula genotypes, respectively, under three N-treatments (ambient, 15, and 150 kg N ha−1 yr−1). We assessed shoot blight occurrence (i.e. symptoms caused by Venturia fungi) during four growing seasons, and tree height growth during the same period. Damage by Venturia spp. increased with N-addition during all years, likely due to enhanced foliar quality. Low–tannin plants showed higher incidences of Venturia infection than high-tannin plants, regardless of the N-input-level. Height responded to an N-by-tannin-group interaction, which occurred because high-tannin plants grew taller than low-tannin plants at the high N-treatment, but not under the other N-levels. This pattern indicates that innate resource investment into tannin production yields a positive effect on growth under N-enriched conditions. Given that N-deposition is increasing globally, our research suggests that further studies are needed to investigate how N-enrichment interacts with plant defense traits globally. Moreover, our research suggests that N-deposition may provide an advantage for well-defended, high-tannin plants; and further, that genetic diversity in plant defense may be a key mechanism by which plant populations respond to this change.
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