Scientific reports

Carbon dioxide level and form of soil nitrogen regulate assimilation of atmospheric ammonia in young trees.

PMID 26294035


The influence of carbon dioxide (CO2) and soil fertility on the physiological performance of plants has been extensively studied, but their combined effect is notoriously difficult to predict. Using Coffea arabica as a model tree species, we observed an additive effect on growth, by which aboveground productivity was highest under elevated CO2 and ammonium fertilization, while nitrate fertilization favored greater belowground biomass allocation regardless of CO2 concentration. A pulse of labelled gases ((13)CO2 and (15)NH3) was administered to these trees as a means to determine the legacy effect of CO2 level and soil nitrogen form on foliar gas uptake and translocation. Surprisingly, trees with the largest aboveground biomass assimilated significantly less NH3 than the smaller trees. This was partly explained by declines in stomatal conductance in plants grown under elevated CO2. However, unlike the (13)CO2 pulse, assimilation and transport of the (15)NH3 pulse to shoots and roots varied as a function of interactions between stomatal conductance and direct plant response to the form of soil nitrogen, observed as differences in tissue nitrogen content and biomass allocation. Nitrogen form is therefore an intrinsic component of physiological responses to atmospheric change, including assimilation of gaseous nitrogen as influenced by plant growth history.