Plant Ecology

, Volume 219, Issue 4, pp 391–401 | Cite as

Nitrogen fixation ability explains leaf chemistry and arbuscular mycorrhizal responses to fertilization

  • Yadugiri V. Tiruvaimozhi
  • Varun Varma
  • Mahesh Sankaran


Atmospheric nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P) deposition rates are predicted to drastically increase in the coming decades. The ecosystem level consequences of these increases will depend on how plant tissue nutrient concentrations, stoichiometry and investment in nutrient uptake mechanisms such as arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi (AMF) change in response to increased nutrient availability, and how responses differ between plant functional types. Using a factorial nutrient addition experiment with seedlings of multiple N-fixing and non-N-fixing tree species, we examined whether leaf chemistry and AMF responses differ between these dominant woody plant functional groups of tropical savanna and dry forest ecosystems. We found that N-fixers have remarkably stable foliar chemistry that stays constant with external input of nutrients. Non-N-fixers responded to N and N + P addition by increasing both concentrations and total amounts of foliar N, but showed a corresponding decrease in P concentrations while total amounts of foliar P stayed constant, suggesting a ‘dilution’ of tissue P with increased N availability. Non-N-fixers also showed an increase in N:P ratios with N and N + P addition, probably driven by both an increase in N and a decrease in P concentrations. AMF colonization decreased with N + P addition in non-N-fixers and increased with N and N + P addition in N-fixers, suggesting differences in their nutrient acquisition roles in the two plant functional groups. Our results suggest that N-fixers and non-N-fixers can differ significantly in their responses to N and P deposition, with potential consequences for future nutrient and carbon cycling in savanna and dry forest ecosystems.


Plant functional group Nutrient deposition Stoichiometry Mycorrhizae Savanna Global change 



We thank H. C. Manjunatha and family for providing us with land for conducting the experiment, FRLHT who helped raise the seedlings used in this experiment, Mahesh H. K., Bomarai, Mahadev H. K. and other people at Hosur who assisted with field work, and Arockia Catherin who helped with lab work. We are grateful to Anand M. Osuri for his comments on a previous draft of this manuscript. National Centre for Biological Sciences, Bangalore, provided core funding for this study.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.


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© Springer Science+Business Media B.V., part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Ecology and Evolution GroupNational Centre for Biological Sciences (NCBS), Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR), GKVK CampusBangaloreIndia
  2. 2.Department of BiosciencesUniversity of ExeterExeterUK
  3. 3.Faculty of Biological Sciences, School of BiologyUniversity of LeedsLeedsUK

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