The objective was to investigate how nitrogen allocation patterns in plants are affected by their vertical position in the vegetation (i.e. being either dominant or subordinate). A garden experiment was carried out with Amaranthus dubius L., grown from seed, in dense stands in which a size hierarchy of nearly equally aged individuals had developed. A small number of dominant plants had most of their leaf area in the highest layers of the canopy while a larger number of subordinate plants grew in the shade of their dominant neighbours. Canopy structure, vertical patterns of leaf nitrogen distribution and leaf photosynthetic characteristics were determined in both dominant and subordinate plants. The light distribution in the stands was also measured. Average N contents per unit leaf area (total canopy nitrogen divided by the total leaf area) were higher in the dominant than in the subordinate plants and this was explained by the higher average MPA (leaf dry mass per unit area) of the dominant plants. However, when expressed on a weight basis, average N contents (LNCav; total canopy N divided by the total dry weight of leaves) were higher in the subordinate plants. It is possible that these higher LNCav values reflect an imbalance between carbon and nitrogen assimilation with N uptake exceeding its metabolic requirement. Leaf N content per unit area decreased more strongly with decreasing relative photon flux density in the dominant than in the subordinate plants showing that this distribution pattern can be different for plants which occupy different positions in the light gradient in the canopy. The amount of N which is reallocated from the oldest to the younger, more illuminated leaves higher up in the vegetation may depend on the sink strength of the younger leaves for nitrogen. In the subordinate plants, constrained photosynthetic activity caused by shading might have reduced the sink intensity of these leaves.
- Canopy structure
- Nitrogen allocation
- Size hierarchy of individuals