Nutrient uptake and use efficiency in co-occurring plants along a disturbance and nutrient availability gradient in the boreal forests of the southwest Yukon, Canada

Craig R. Nitschke*, Patrick O. Waeber, Jan Willem Klaassen, Julia Dordel, John L. Innes, Cristina Aponte

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

    13 Citations (Scopus)


    Aim: In boreal forest ecosystems plant productivity is typically constrained by mineral nutrient availability. In some boreal regions changes in nutrient availability have led to limited changes in productivity but large changes in plant composition. To determine the impact that a change in nutrient availability has on the plant communities it is important to understand how species use nutrients. Here we explore how plant species and functional types in a cold-dry boreal forest community use available nutrients by quantifying their respective nutrient utilization and response efficiency. Location: Boreal forests in the southwest corner of the Yukon Territory, Canada. Methods: We collected soil samples and total plant biomass from 29 plots from nine locations subjected to fire, harvesting or bark beetle disturbances. Nutrient analysis of all vegetation and soil samples were conducted to determine the concentration of macro- and micronutrients from both plant biomass and soils collected. Nutrient pools between stands with different disturbance histories are compared. Nutrient uptake, use and response efficiencies were then calculated and nutrient response profiles were developed for each species/functional type. Results: We found few differences between nutrient pools in plots with different disturbance histories. A clear separation of species and functional groups in elemental hyperspace suggesting divergent nutrient use in co-occurring species was identified. The use efficiency analysis highlighted that the species with the highest uptake efficiency have lowest use efficiency and vice versa. Species showed either a monotonic or constant relationship between nutrient response efficiency and N, P, K, reflecting a lack of relationship between plant productivity and resource availability or a linear increase in productivity with increasing nutrient availability, respectively. Conclusions: Our findings indicate that species are maximizing nutrient use along different parts of the resource gradient, which has implications for understanding how species respond to changes in nutrient availability. Our findings also show that nutrient use by some species may be governed more by uptake efficiency than use efficiency, allowing them to respond to increases in resource availability by increasing uptake rather than use.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)69-81
    JournalJournal of Vegetation Science
    Issue number1
    Publication statusPublished - 2017


    • Boreal
    • Nitrogen
    • Nutrient
    • Nutrient response efficiency
    • Nutrient use efficiency
    • Phosphorus
    • Picea glauca
    • Potassium


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