Growth rates and nutrition status of an open and a closed population of Rhododendron ferrugineum L . in the northwestern Alps (France)
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This study evaluates the utility of cell compounds as indicators of nutrition status of plant populations. An overview of the soluble free amino-acids, carbohydrates and P-compounds in the two year classes of leaves from Rhododendron ferrugineum populations showing variable biological performances, was drawn up using carbon-13 and phosphorus-31 nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy (NMR). The results showed differences between the age of leaves and the degree of population closure. The open population, which has the smallest growth rate and net primary productivity, had generally lower levels of amino-acids but higher levels of carbohydrates and P-compounds. Neither the amounts of mineral nitrogen produced by the soils nor the total nitrogen concentrations in leaves differed significantly. Still we hypothesize that the nitrogen availability could be largely responsible for the variations observed between the populations, as phosphorus analyses showed that the two populations did not suffer significant P deficiencies. Differences in vitality of R. ferrugineum may be explained by the fact that in an open population R. ferrugineum is forced into a situation of sharing nutrients with other species while in a closed population it is the sole species to exploit a specific pool of nutrients. Finally we observed that the 13C- and 31P-NMR approach is more suitable for studying the nutrition status of plant populations under field conditions than the determination of the total amounts of different elementary nutrients.
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