Papers in the Biological Sciences


Date of this Version



Plant Ecol (2013) 214:1405–1416


© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

This document is a U.S. government work and is not subject to copyright in the United States.

DOI 10.1007/s11258-013-0260-4


The association of tree species with particular soil types contributes to high b diversity in forests, but the mechanisms producing such distributions are still debated. Soil nitrogen (N) often limits growth and occurs in differentially available chemical forms. In a Bornean forest where tree species composition changes dramatically along a soil gradient varying in supplies of different N-forms, we investigated whether tree species’ N-uptake and soil specialization strategies covaried. We analyzed foliar 15N natural abundance for a total of 216 tree species on clay or sandy loam (the soils at the gradient’s extremes) and conducted a 15N-tracer experiment with nine specialist and generalist species to test whether species displayed flexible or differential uptake of ammonium and nitrate. Despite variation in ammonium and nitrate supplies and nearly 4 % difference in foliar δ15N between most soil specialists and populations of generalists on these soils, our 15N tracer experiment showed little support for the hypothesis that soil specialists vary in N-form use or the ratios in which they use these forms. Instead, our results indicate that these species possess flexible capacities to take up different inorganic N forms. Variation between soil specialists in uptake of different N forms is thus unlikely to cause the soil associations of tree species and high b diversity characteristic of this Bornean rain forest. Flexible uptake strategies would facilitate N-acquisition when supply rates of N-forms exhibit spatiotemporal variation and suggest that these species may be functionally redundant in their responses to N gradients and influences on ecosystem N-cycles.

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