Rapid Uptake of 15N-ammonium and glycine-13C, 15N by Arbuscular and Ericoid Mycorrhizal Plants Native to a Northern California Coastal Pygmy Forest

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Glycine, 15N ammonium, Amino acid uptake, Nitrogen uptake, Nitrogen cycle, Organic nitrogen, Stable isotope, Ericoid mycorrhiza, Arbuscular mycorrhiza, Dark septate endophyte, Pygmy forest, Cupressaceae, Ericaceae

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While it is well established that plants are able to acquire nitrogen in inorganic form, there is less information on their ability to ‘short circuit’ the N cycle, compete with microbes, and acquire nitrogen in organic form. Mycorrhizal fungi, known to enhance nutrient uptake by plants, may play a role in organic N uptake, particularly ericoid mycorrhizas. We asked the question—Can mycorrhizal fungi increase the ability of plants to take up organic N, compared to inorganic N? Here, we report on the abilities of three plant species, ericoid mycorrhizal Rhododendron macrophyllum and Vaccinium ovatum and arbuscular mycorrhizal Cupressus goveniana ssp. pigmaea, to acquire C and/or N from an organic and an inorganic N source. All three species are native to a California coastal pygmy forest growing in acidic, low-fertility, highly organic soils. In a pot study, glycine-α13C, 15N and 15N-ammonium were applied to pygmy forest soil for 17 or 44 h. Ericoid mycorrhizal species did not demonstrate a preference for either inorganic or organic sources of N while Cupressusacquired more NH4-N than glycine-N. For all species, glycine-N uptake did not increase after 17 h suggesting glycine uptake and glycine immobilization occurred rapidly. Both glycine-N and glycine-C were recovered in shoots and in roots suggesting that all species acquired some N in organic form. Regression analyses of glycine-N and glycine-C recovery in root tissue indicate that much of the glycine was taken up intact and that the minimum proportion of glycine-N recovered in organic form was 85% (Cupressus) and 70% (Rhododendron). Regressions were non-significant for Vaccinium. For all species, glycine-N remained predominantly in roots while glycine-C was transferred to shoots. In contrast, NH4-N remained in roots of ericoid plants but was transferred to shoots of arbuscular mycorrhizal Cupressus. Since net N mineralization rates in pygmy forest soils are low, our results suggest that organic N may be an important N source for plants in this temperate coniferous ecosystem regardless of mycorrhizal type. Acquisition of amino acid C by these species also may partially offset the carbon cost to plants of hosting mycorrhizal fungi.

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Soil Biology and Biochemistry, v. 39, issue 5, p. 1078-1086