Plant and Soil

, Volume 334, Issue 1–2, pp 11–31 | Cite as

Plant mineral nutrition in ancient landscapes: high plant species diversity on infertile soils is linked to functional diversity for nutritional strategies

  • Hans Lambers
  • Mark C. Brundrett
  • John A. Raven
  • Stephen D. Hopper
Marschner Review


Ancient landscapes, which have not been glaciated in recent times or disturbed by other major catastrophic events such as volcanic eruptions, are dominated by nutrient-impoverished soils. If these parts of the world have had a relatively stable climate, due to buffering by oceans, their floras tend to be very biodiverse. This review compares the functional ecophysiological plant traits that dominate in old, climatically buffered, infertile landscapes (OCBILS) with those commonly found in young, frequently disturbed, fertile landscapes (YODFELs). We show that, within the OCBILs of Western Australia, non-mycorrhizal species with specialised root clusters predominantly occur on the most phosphate-impoverished soils, where they co-occur with mycorrhizal species without such specialised root clusters. In global comparisons, we show that plants in OCBILs, especially in Western Australia, are characterised by very low leaf phosphorus (P) concentrations, very high N:P ratios, and very high LMA values (LMA = leaf mass per unit leaf area). In addition, we show that species in OCBILs are far more likely to show P-toxicity symptoms when exposed to slightly elevated soil P levels when compared with plants in YODFELs. In addition, some species in OCBILs exhibit a remarkable P-resorption proficiency, with some plants in Western Australia achieving leaf P concentrations in recently shed leaves that are lower than ever reported before. We discuss how this knowledge on functional traits can guide us towards sustainable management of ancient landscapes.


Ancient landscapes Biodiversity Cluster roots LMA Mycorrhiza Nitrogen OCBIL Phosphorus Sclerophyllous YODFEL 



This work was funded by the Australian Research Council (ARC). We are very grateful to Neil Gibson and Greg Keighery for access to floristic survey data, and to Ian Wright and colleagues for permitting access to their global dataset. Mark Brundrett is supported by Lotterywest funding for the Wheatbelt Orchid Rescue Project. We thank Etienne Laliberté for his thoughtful comments on this manuscript. The University of Dundee is a registered Scottish charity No 015096.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • Hans Lambers
    • 1
  • Mark C. Brundrett
    • 1
  • John A. Raven
    • 1
    • 2
  • Stephen D. Hopper
    • 1
    • 3
  1. 1.School of Plant BiologyThe University of Western AustraliaCrawleyAustralia
  2. 2.Division of Plant SciencesUniversity of Dundee at SCRI, Scottish Crop Research InstituteDundeeUK
  3. 3.Royal Botanic Gardens, KewRichmondUK

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