Why are tropical conifers disadvantaged in fertile soils? Comparison of Podocarpus guatemalensis with an angiosperm pioneer, Ficus insipida

Ana C. Palma, Klaus Winter, Jorge Aranda, James W. Dalling, Alexander W. Cheesman, Benjamin L. Turner, Lucas A. Cernusak

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Conifers are, for the most part, competitively excluded from tropical rainforests by angiosperms. Where they do occur, conifers often occupy sites that are relatively infertile. To gain insight into the physiological mechanisms by which angiosperms outcompete conifers in more productive sites, we grew seedlings of a tropical conifer (Podocarpus guatemalensis Standley) and an angiosperm pioneer (Ficus insipida Willd.) with and without added nutrients, supplied in the form of a slow-release fertilizer. At the conclusion of the experiment, the dry mass of P. guatemalensis seedlings in fertilized soil was approximately twofold larger than that of seedlings in unfertilized soil; on the other hand, the dry mass of F. insipida seedlings in fertilized soil was ∼20-fold larger than seedlings in unfertilized soil. The higher relative growth rate of F. insipida was associated with a larger leaf area ratio and a higher photosynthetic rate per unit leaf area. Higher overall photosynthetic rates in F. insipida were associated with an approximately fivefold larger stomatal conductance than in P. guatemalensis. We surmise that a higher whole-plant hydraulic conductance in the vessel bearing angiosperm F. insipida enabled higher leaf area ratio and higher stomatal conductance per unit leaf area than in the tracheid bearing P. guatemalensis, which enabled F. insipida to capitalize on increased photosynthetic capacity driven by higher nitrogen availability in fertilized soil.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)810-821
Number of pages12
JournalTree Physiology
Volume40
Issue number6
DOIs
StatePublished - 2020

Keywords

  • Carbon isotope ratio
  • Conifer
  • Nitrogen
  • Photosynthesis
  • Relative growth rate
  • Water-use efficiency

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Plant Science

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