Nasholm T, Ekblad A, Nordin A, Giesler R, Hogberg M, Hogberg P
Boreal forest plants take up organic nitrogen
Nature: 1998 392:914-916
Plant growth in the boreal forest, the largest terrestrial biome, is generally limited by the availability of nitrogen. The presumed cause of this limitation is slow mineralization of soil organic nitrogen(1,2). Here we demonstrate, to our knowledge for the first time, the uptake of organic nitrogen in the field by the trees Pinus sylvestris and Picea abies, the dwarf shrub Vaccinium myrtillus and the grass Deschampsia flexuosa. These results show that these plants, irrespective of their different types of root-fungal associations (mycorrhiza), bypass nitrogen mineralization. A trace of the amino acid glycine, labelled with the stable isotopes C-13 and N-15, was injected into the organic (mor) layer of an old successional boreal coniferous forest. Ratios of C-13:N-15 in the roots showed that at least 91, 64 and 42% of the nitrogen from the absorbed glycine was taken up in intact glycine by the dwarf shrub, the grass and the trees, respectively. Rates of glycine uptake were similar to those of N-15-ammonium. Our data indicate that organic nitrogen is important for these different plants, even when they are competing with each other and with non-symbiotic microorganisms. This has major implications for our understanding of the effects of nitrogen deposition, global warming and intensified forestry.
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