Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Each tropical tree species specializes in getting the nutrients it needs

06.08.2018

Trees communicate via a "wood wide web" of roots and microbes in ways that enhance their growth and can reduce carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, mitigating climate change. But no one knows why so many tropical trees team up with bacteria to capture nitrogen from the air when they already grow in nitrogen-rich soils. A super-sized experiment at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI) to address this paradox showed that each species has its own unique nutrient-capture strategies, underscoring the importance of biodiversity for successful reforestation projects.

Tropical soils may be rich in nitrogen, but poor in phosphorus useable by plants. Many tropical tree species--usually in the bean (legume) family--have nodules on their roots formed by bacteria to capture nitrogen gas from the air and convert it into nitrogen useful for growth and carbon storage.


The 700-hectare Agua Salud experiment is divided into various catchments to better understand how land use and native timber species, store carbon, protect biodiversity and influence water flow into the Panama Canal.

Credit: Jorge Aleman, STRI

"People speculated that nitrogen-fixing species might channel extra nitrogen into making the phosphatase enzyme to capture phosphorus," said Jefferson Hall, director of the Smithsonian's Panama Canal watershed experiment--the Agua Salud Project. "But the evidence was limited."

Hall and colleagues realized that the landscape-scale experiment designed to find out how tropical trees store carbon, affect the water supply and conserve biodiversity, would be the perfect place ask this question, because, unlike in natural forests, there are enough individuals of each species to be able to generalize about how they behave. The team compared between six and 13 individual trees in each of four nitrogen-fixing and three non-nitrogen fixing species to produce phosphatase.

"I think about trees as individuals, as active decision makers, communicating and exchanging materials, choosing one strategy over another," said Sarah Batterman, first author of this study and associate professor and Natural Environment Research Council Independent research fellow at the University of Leeds, UK. "Overall, nitrogen-fixing trees produced more phosphatase, but non-nitrogen fixers did too, sometimes as much as nitrogen fixers, showing the diversity of strategies out there."

"We were hoping to find evidence for the nutrient trading hypothesis--that nitrogen fixers invest in nitrogen-rich phosphatase enzymes, which would resolve the paradox of why there are more nitrogen-fixing trees in these nitrogen-rich tropical forest soils," Batterman said. "But we didn't find any across-the-board support for this hypothesis. So then we considered the nutrient balance hypothesis--that trees adjust their nutrient-capture strategies to satisfy their needs--fixing more nitrogen in nitrogen-poor soils, making more phosphatase in phosphorus-poor soils. We didn't find across-the-board support for this, either."

"An important finding of this study is that high phosphatase activity is not restricted to nitrogen-fixing trees, but varies markedly among both legumes and non-legume species," said Ben Turner, co-author and director of the STRI Soils Laboratory.

"The exciting thing is that now we can apply what we learned about basic biological processes to reforestation efforts to maximize carbon capture and mitigate climate change," Batterman said. "Now we know which tree species may be better at accessing phosphorus, which may be better at getting nitrogen and, most importantly, that biodiversity is critical for reforestation projects."

The Agua Salud Project, a collaboration between STRI, the Panama Canal Authority and Panama's Ministry of the Environment (MiAmbiente). Native species plantations are part of the Smart Reforesation, BiodiversiTREE and TreeDivNet programs.

"We would especially like to thank supporters of the Agua Salud Project--ForestGEO, the Heising-Simons Foundation, HSBC bank, Stanley Motta, Small World Institute Fund, Smithsonian Institution's Competitive Grants for Science, Smithsonian Institution's Grand Challenges Grants, the Hoch family, the U.S. National Science Foundation, National University of Singapore, STRI and Yale-NUS college--because they believe in narrowing the distance between applied and theoretical research," said Hall. The lead author also received support from Princeton University, a STRI short-term fellowship program and a United Kingdom Natural Environment Research Council grant.

###

The Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, headquartered in Panama City, Panama, is a unit of the Smithsonian Institution. The Institute furthers the understanding of tropical biodiversity 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. Promo video.

Ref. Batterman, S.A, Hall, J.S., Turner, B.L, et al. 2018. Phosphatase activity and nitrogen fixation reflect species differences, not nutrient trading or nutrient balance, across tropical rainforest trees. Ecology Letters. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/journal/14610248

Media Contact

Beth King
kingb@si.edu
202-633-4700 x28216

 @stri_panama

http://www.stri.org 

Beth King | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/ele.13129

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Rules of brain architecture revealed in large study of neuron shape & electrophysiology
18.06.2019 | Allen Institute

nachricht Schizophrenia: Adolescence is the game-changer
18.06.2019 | Université de Genève

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

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

Im Focus: The hidden structure of the periodic system

The well-known representation of chemical elements is just one example of how objects can be arranged and classified

The periodic table of elements that most chemistry books depict is only one special case. This tabular overview of the chemical elements, which goes back to...

Im Focus: MPSD team discovers light-induced ferroelectricity in strontium titanate

Light can be used not only to measure materials’ properties, but also to change them. Especially interesting are those cases in which the function of a material can be modified, such as its ability to conduct electricity or to store information in its magnetic state. A team led by Andrea Cavalleri from the Max Planck Institute for the Structure and Dynamics of Matter in Hamburg used terahertz frequency light pulses to transform a non-ferroelectric material into a ferroelectric one.

Ferroelectricity is a state in which the constituent lattice “looks” in one specific direction, forming a macroscopic electrical polarisation. The ability to...

Im Focus: Determining the Earth’s gravity field more accurately than ever before

Researchers at TU Graz calculate the most accurate gravity field determination of the Earth using 1.16 billion satellite measurements. This yields valuable knowledge for climate research.

The Earth’s gravity fluctuates from place to place. Geodesists use this phenomenon to observe geodynamic and climatological processes. Using...

Im Focus: Tube anemone has the largest animal mitochondrial genome ever sequenced

Discovery by Brazilian and US researchers could change the classification of two species, which appear more akin to jellyfish than was thought.

The tube anemone Isarachnanthus nocturnus is only 15 cm long but has the largest mitochondrial genome of any animal sequenced to date, with 80,923 base pairs....

Im Focus: Tiny light box opens new doors into the nanoworld

Researchers at Chalmers University of Technology, Sweden, have discovered a completely new way of capturing, amplifying and linking light to matter at the nanolevel. Using a tiny box, built from stacked atomically thin material, they have succeeded in creating a type of feedback loop in which light and matter become one. The discovery, which was recently published in Nature Nanotechnology, opens up new possibilities in the world of nanophotonics.

Photonics is concerned with various means of using light. Fibre-optic communication is an example of photonics, as is the technology behind photodetectors and...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

SEMANTiCS 2019 brings together industry leaders and data scientists in Karlsruhe

29.04.2019 | Event News

Revered mathematicians and computer scientists converge with 200 young researchers in Heidelberg!

17.04.2019 | Event News

First dust conference in the Central Asian part of the earth’s dust belt

15.04.2019 | Event News

 
Latest News

Schizophrenia: Adolescence is the game-changer

18.06.2019 | Life Sciences

Rules of brain architecture revealed in large study of neuron shape & electrophysiology

18.06.2019 | Life Sciences

Research highlights possible targets to help tackle Crohn's disease

18.06.2019 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>