A climate-driven switch in plant nitrogen acquisition within tropical forest communities

Publication Year


Journal Article
The response of tropical forests to climate change will depend on individual plant species nutritional strategies, which have not been defined in the case of the nitrogen nutrition that is critical to sustaining plant growth and photosynthesis. We used isotope natural abundances to show that a group of tropical plant species with diverse growth strategies (trees and ferns, canopy, and subcanopy) relied on a common pool of inorganic nitrogen, rather than specializing on different nitrogen pools. Moreover, the tropical species we examined changed their dominant nitrogen source abruptly, and in unison, in response to precipitation change. This threshold response indicates a coherent strategy among species to exploit the most available form of nitrogen in soils. The apparent community-wide flexibility in nitrogen uptake suggests that diverse species within tropical forests can physiologically track changes in nitrogen cycling caused by climate change. © 2007 by The National Academy of Sciences of the USA.
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America