Untangling the effects of root age and tissue nitrogen on root respiration in Populus tremuloides at different nitrogen supply
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Root respiration is a major contributor to terrestrial carbon flux. Many studies have shown root respiration to increase with an increase in root tissue nitrogen (N) concentration across species and study sites. Studies have also shown that both root respiration and root N concentration typically decrease with root age. The effects of added N may directly increase respiration of existing roots or may affect respiration by shifting the age structure of a root population by stimulating growth. To the best of our knowledge, no study has ever examined the effect of added N as a function of root age on root respiration. In this study, root respiration of 13-year-old Populus tremuloides Michx. trees grown in the field and 1-year-old P. tremuloides seedlings grown in containers was analyzed for the relative influence of root age and root N concentration independent of root age on root respiration. Field roots were first tracked using root windows and then sampled at known age. Nitrogen was either applied or not to small patches beneath the windows. In a pot experiment, each plant was grown with its root system split between two separate pots and N was applied at three different levels, either at the same or at different rates between pots. Root N concentration ranged between 1.4 and 1.7% in the field experiment and 1.8 and 2.6% in the seedling experiment. We found that addition of N increased root N concentration of only older roots in the field but of roots of all ages in the potted seedlings. In both experiments, the age-dependent decline in root respiration was largely consistent, and could be explained by a negative power function. Respiration decreased ∼50% by 3 weeks of age. Although root age was the dominant factor affecting respiration in both experiments, in the field experiment, root N also contributed to root respiration independent of root age. These results add further insight into respiratory responses of roots to N addition and mechanisms underlying the tissue N-respiration relationship. © The Author 2016. Published by Oxford University Press.
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