Photosynthesis-nitrogen relations in Amazonian tree species - I. Patterns among species and communities

P. B. Reich, M. B. Walters, D. S. Ellsworth, C. Uhl

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Among species, photosynthetic capacity (Amax) is usually related to leaf nitrogen content (N), but variation in the species-specific relationship is not well understood. To address this issue, we studied Amax-N relationships in 23 species in adjacent Amazonian communities differentially limited by nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), and/or other mineral nutrients. Five species were studied in each of three late successional forest types (Tierra Firme, Caatinga and Bana) and eight species were studied on disturbed sites (cultivated and early secondary successional Tierra Firme plots). Amax expressed on a mass basis (Amass) was correlated (p<0.05) with Nmass in 17 of 23 species, and Amax on an area basis (Aarea) was correlated (p<0.05) with Narea in 21 of 23 species. The slopes of Amax-N relationships were greater and intercepts lower for disturbance adapted early successional species than for late successional species. On a mass basis, the Amax-N slope averaged ≈15 μmol CO2 [g N]-1 s-1 for 7 early secondary successional species and ≈4 μmol CO2 [g N]-1 s-1 for 15 late successional species, respectively. Species from disturbed sites had shorter leaf life-span and greater specific leaf area (SLA) than late successional species. Across all 23 species, the slope of the Amass-Nmass relationship was related (p<0.001) positively to SLA (r2=0.70) and negatively to leaf life-span (r2=0.78) and temporal niche during secondary succession (years since cutting-and-burning, r2=0.90). Thus, disturbance adapted early successional species display a set of traits (short leaf life-span, high SLA and Amax and a steep slope of Amax-N) conducive to resource acquisition and rapid growth in their high resource regeneration niches. The significance and form of the Amax-N relationship were associated with the relative nutrient limitations in the three late successional communities. At species and community levels, Amax was more highly dependent on N in the N-limited Caatinga than in the P-and N-limited Bana and least in the P-and Ca-limited Tierra Firme on oxisol-and differences among these three communities in their massbased Amax-N slope reflects this pattern (6.0, 2.4, and 0.7 μmol CO2 [g N]-1 s-1, respectively). Among all 23 species, the estimated leaf Nmass needed to reach compensation (net photosynthesis ≈ zero) was positively related to the Amass-Nmass slope and to dark respiration rates and negatively related to leaf life-span. Variation among species in the Amax-N slope was well correlated with potential photosynthetic N use efficiency, Amax per unit leaf N. The dependence of Amax on N and the form of the relationship vary among Amazonian species and communities, consistent with both relative availabilities of N, P, and other mineral nutrients, and with intrinsic ecophysiological characteristics of species adapted to habitats of varying resource availability.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)62-72
Number of pages11
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 1 1994

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


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