A comparative study of the growth and morphology of eight grass species from habitats with different nutrient availabilities.

W.Th. Elberse, F. Berendse

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    Abstract

    1. To find out which properties enable plant species to dominate in nutrient-poor habitats and which properties benefit species in nutrient-rich habitats, we studied the growth and morphology of eight perennial grass species from habitats with contrasting soil fertilities in a pot experiment under controlled conditions in a glasshouse. 2. The species were grown under nutrient-poor and nutrient-rich conditions. Ranked from the least responsive to the most responsive to the supply of nutrients they were: Festuca ovina, F. rubra, Anthoxanthum odoratum, F. arundinacea, Alopecurus pratensis, F. pratensis, Arrhenatherum elatius, Lolium perenne. 3. The response correlated positively with the Ellenberg nitrogen number of the species. No differences in initial relative growth rate were found between the species, but after 4 weeks the plant dry weight increased with increasing nitrogen number as a result of variation in embryo plus endosperm weight. 4. Species characteristic of nutrient-rich hayfields are taller and show a more homogeneous vertical distribution of photosynthetic area than the species from nutrient-poor habitats, which have most of their leaf area below 15 cm. Species from the nutrient-poor habitats allocated less dry matter to the roots and consequently more to the shoot, than species from nutrient-rich conditions. However, leaf and root morphology seem to be most clearly adapted to the habitat. 5. Species from nutrient-rich habitats have a higher specific leaf area (SLA) than species from nutrient-poor habitats, while species from nutrient-poor habitats had more root length per unit root weight (SRL) than species from nutrient-rich habitats.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)223-229
    JournalFunctional Ecology
    Volume7
    Publication statusPublished - 1993

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