Journal cover Journal topic
Biogeosciences An interactive open-access journal of the European Geosciences Union
Journal topic
Volume 14, issue 1 | Copyright
Biogeosciences, 14, 131-144, 2017
© Author(s) 2017. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.

Research article 11 Jan 2017

Research article | 11 Jan 2017

The interaction between nitrogen and phosphorous is a strong predictor of intra-plant variation in nitrogen isotope composition in a desert species

Jinxin Zhang1,2, Lianhong Gu3, Jingbo Zhang1,4, Rina Wu1, Feng Wang1, Guanghui Lin5, Bo Wu1, Qi Lu1, and Ping Meng6 Jinxin Zhang et al.
  • 1Institute of Desertification Studies, Chinese Academy of Forestry, Beijing, China
  • 2Research Institute of Forestry, Chinese Academy of Forestry, Beijing, China
  • 3Environmental Sciences Division and Climate Change Science Institute, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Oak Ridge, TN 37831, USA
  • 4The Experimental Center of Desert Forestry of the Chinese Academy of Forestry, Dengkou, Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, China
  • 5Center for Earth System Science, Tsinghua University, Beijing, China
  • 6Headquarters, Chinese Academy of Forestry, Beijing, China

Abstract. Understanding intra-plant variations in δ15N is essential for fully utilizing the potential of δ15N as an integrator of the terrestrial nitrogen (N) cycle and as an indicator of the relative limitation of N and phosphorous (P) on plant growth. Studying such variations can also yield insights into N metabolism by plant as a whole or by specific organs. However, few researchers have systematically evaluated intra-plant variations in δ15N and their relationships with organ nutrient contents. We excavated whole plant architectures of Nitraria tangutorum Bobrov, a C3 species of vital regional ecological importance, in two deserts in northwestern China. We systematically and simultaneously measured N isotope ratios and N and P contents of different parts of the excavated plants. We found that intra-plant variations in δ15N of N. tangutorum were positively correlated with corresponding organ N and P contents. However, it was the N× P interaction, not N and P individually or their linear combination, that was the strongest predictor of intra-plant δ15N. Additionally, we showed that root δ15N increased with depth into soil, a pattern similar to profiles of soil δ15N reported by previous studies in different ecosystems. We hypothesized that the strong positive intra-plant δ15N–N and P relationships are caused by three processes acting in conjunction: (1) N and P content-driven fractionating exchanges of ammonia between leaves and the atmosphere (volatilization) during photorespiration, (2) resorption and remobilization of N and P from senescing leaves, and (3) mixture of the re-translocated foliar N and P with existing pools in stems and roots. To test our hypothesis, future studies should investigate plant N volatilization and associated isotope fractionation and intra-plant variations in δ15N in different species across ecosystems and climates.

Download & links
Publications Copernicus
Short summary
Plant nitrogen (N) isotope composition is an indicator of N cycling. How N isotopes are distributed within plants is not well understood. We found intra-plant variations in N isotopes were related to organ N and phosphorous (P) contents and predicted by the N–P interaction. We hypothesized that plant N volatilization, resorption and remobilization of N and P from senescing leaves, and mixing of the re-translocated foliar N and P, are responsible for the observed intra-plant N isotope variations.
Plant nitrogen (N) isotope composition is an indicator of N cycling. How N isotopes are...