Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Necessity at the roots of innovation: The scramble for nutrients intensifies as soils age


Confronted by extreme scarcity of nutrients in an Australian dune ecosystem, the leaves of different plant species converge on a single efficient strategy to conserve phosphorus, an essential nutrient. But it is a different story underground, say researchers, including Ben Turner, staff scientist at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute. Plants on older dunes draw from a full bag of tricks, and take advantage of nearly all of the known adaptations for acquiring nutrients to capture the phosphorus they need.

"Plants cope with phosphorus scarcity in a similar way above-ground by making phosphorus-efficient leaves," Turner said. "But below-ground they're using many different strategies to obtain phosphorus, and the diversity of those strategies increases as soil phosphorus declines."

Nutrient poor soils in the Jurien Bay ecosystem support a very diverse plant community.

Credit: ABC/Ben Turner

The properties of soil, "the living skin of the Earth," drive biological processes, but these properties change as soils age. One of the best places in the world to study what happens to plant communities as soils age is the Jurien Bay dune chronosequence in Australia, a series of with new to ancient soils.

New dunes form during interglacial periods of high sea levels, as the ocean throws sand up onto the shore. Meanwhile, inland dunes are gradually covered by kwongan, exceptionally species-rich shrubby vegetation unique to southwestern Australia. Soil phosphorus has gradually leached away during the past 2 million years, leaving some of the most impoverished soils in the world on the oldest dunes.

Turner and colleagues from the University of Western Australia and the University of Montreal identified and counted all of the plants at a series of six dune systems, then identified how each species acquired phosphorus from the soil. As the ecosystem aged, the number of plant species and the number of phosphorus acquisition strategies increased.

Some plant roots join forces with mycorrhizal fungi, which extend out like a net from plant roots to capture nutrients. Other plants form clusters of roots that exude carboxylates to "mine" the soil for phosphorus. Some resort to parasitism and carnivory, extracting phosphorus from other organisms. Even plants growing next to one another used different nutrient capture strategies with equal success.

"There's considerable interest in understanding how plant traits influence the assembly of plant communities," Turner said. "This study highlights the potential importance of nutrient acquisition strategies in this process, particularly for species-rich ecosystems."

Complete results of this study, supported by the Australian Research Council and the Kwongan Foundation, are published in the journal Nature Plants.


The Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, headquartered in Panama City, Panama, is a part of the Smithsonian Institution. The institute furthers the understanding of tropical nature and its importance to human welfare, trains students to conduct research in the tropics and promotes conservation by increasing public awareness of the beauty and importance of tropical ecosystems. Website:

Reference: Zemunik, G., B.L. Turner, H. Lambers, and E. Laliberté (2015). Diversity of plant nutrient-acquisition strategies increases during long-term ecosystem development. Nature Plants.

Media Contact

Beth King
202-633-4700 x28216


Beth King | EurekAlert!

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Don't Give the Slightest Chance to Toxic Elements in Medicinal Products
23.03.2018 | Physikalisch-Technische Bundesanstalt (PTB)

nachricht North and South Cooperation to Combat Tuberculosis
22.03.2018 | Universität Zürich

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Space observation with radar to secure Germany's space infrastructure

Satellites in near-Earth orbit are at risk due to the steady increase in space debris. But their mission in the areas of telecommunications, navigation or weather forecasts is essential for society. Fraunhofer FHR therefore develops radar-based systems which allow the detection, tracking and cataloging of even the smallest particles of debris. Satellite operators who have access to our data are in a better position to plan evasive maneuvers and prevent destructive collisions. From April, 25-29 2018, Fraunhofer FHR and its partners will exhibit the complementary radar systems TIRA and GESTRA as well as the latest radar techniques for space observation across three stands at the ILA Berlin.

The "traffic situation" in space is very tense: the Earth is currently being orbited not only by countless satellites but also by a large volume of space...

Im Focus: Researchers Discover New Anti-Cancer Protein

An international team of researchers has discovered a new anti-cancer protein. The protein, called LHPP, prevents the uncontrolled proliferation of cancer cells in the liver. The researchers led by Prof. Michael N. Hall from the Biozentrum, University of Basel, report in “Nature” that LHPP can also serve as a biomarker for the diagnosis and prognosis of liver cancer.

The incidence of liver cancer, also known as hepatocellular carcinoma, is steadily increasing. In the last twenty years, the number of cases has almost doubled...

Im Focus: Researchers at Fraunhofer monitor re-entry of Chinese space station Tiangong-1

In just a few weeks from now, the Chinese space station Tiangong-1 will re-enter the Earth's atmosphere where it will to a large extent burn up. It is possible that some debris will reach the Earth's surface. Tiangong-1 is orbiting the Earth uncontrolled at a speed of approx. 29,000 km/h.Currently the prognosis relating to the time of impact currently lies within a window of several days. The scientists at Fraunhofer FHR have already been monitoring Tiangong-1 for a number of weeks with their TIRA system, one of the most powerful space observation radars in the world, with a view to supporting the German Space Situational Awareness Center and the ESA with their re-entry forecasts.

Following the loss of radio contact with Tiangong-1 in 2016 and due to the low orbital height, it is now inevitable that the Chinese space station will...

Im Focus: Alliance „OLED Licht Forum“ – Key partner for OLED lighting solutions

Fraunhofer Institute for Organic Electronics, Electron Beam and Plasma Technology FEP, provider of research and development services for OLED lighting solutions, announces the founding of the “OLED Licht Forum” and presents latest OLED design and lighting solutions during light+building, from March 18th – 23rd, 2018 in Frankfurt a.M./Germany, at booth no. F91 in Hall 4.0.

They are united in their passion for OLED (organic light emitting diodes) lighting with all of its unique facets and application possibilities. Thus experts in...

Im Focus: Mars' oceans formed early, possibly aided by massive volcanic eruptions

Oceans formed before Tharsis and evolved together, shaping climate history of Mars

A new scenario seeking to explain how Mars' putative oceans came and went over the last 4 billion years implies that the oceans formed several hundred million...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Industry & Economy
Event News

New solar solutions for sustainable buildings and cities

23.03.2018 | Event News

Virtual reality conference comes to Reutlingen

19.03.2018 | Event News

Ultrafast Wireless and Chip Design at the DATE Conference in Dresden

16.03.2018 | Event News

Latest News

For graphite pellets, just add elbow grease

23.03.2018 | Materials Sciences

Unique communication strategy discovered in stem cell pathway controlling plant growth

23.03.2018 | Agricultural and Forestry Science

Sharpening the X-ray view of the nanocosm

23.03.2018 | Physics and Astronomy

Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>