Phalaris arundinacea displaces the slower-growing, native sedge, Carex stricta, where nitrogen availability is high. Our aim was to address whether morphological and physiological traits associated with carbon gain for P. arundinacea and C. stricta responded to nitrogen supply differently and if the species exhibited different degrees of plasticity in these traits. The plants were grown in gravel and provided modified Hoagland's solution containing four nitrogen concentrations from 0.15 to 15mM for 6 to 7 weeks. Supplied nitrogen affected the leaf nitrogen content to the same degree for both species. Increasing supplied nitrogen strongly increased CO2 assimilation (A), photosynthetic nitrogen use efficiency (PNUE), and respiration for P. arundinacea but had only a small effect on these parameters for C. stricta. Relative to growth at 15mM nitrogen, growth at 0.15mM for young leaves decreased carboxylation capacity and efficiency and the capacity for electron transport for P. arundinacea and a larger, stouter Carex species, Carex lacustris, by 53 to 70% but only 20 to 24% for C. stricta. Leaf nitrogen decreased approximately 50% for all species, but vacuolar nitrate did not decrease for P. arundinacea and C. stricta, suggesting that it does not serve as a nitrogen reserve for use during nitrogen deprivation in these species. After 4 months of nitrogen deprivation, P. arundinacea doubled A in 12 days after being supplied 15mM nitrogen, whereas A for C. stricta increased only 22%. We propose that one factor linking P. arundinacea abundance to nitrogen availability involves this species' plastic response of carbon gain to nitrogen supply. C. stricta appears to be adapted to tolerate low nitrogen availability but cannot respond as rapidly and extensively as P. arundinacea when nitrogen supply is high.
- Photosynthetic nitrogen use efficiency
- Specific leaf area
- Wetland plants