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Nutrients limit photosynthesis in seedlings of a lowland tropical forest tree species.


We investigated how photosynthesis by understory seedlings of the lowland tropical tree species Alseis blackiana responded to 10 years of soil nutrient fertilization with N, P and K. We ask whether nutrients are limiting to light and CO(2) acquisition in a low light understory environment. We measured foliar nutrient concentrations of N, P and K, isotopic composition of carbon (δ(13)C) and nitrogen (δ(15)N), and light response curves of photosynthesis and chlorophyll fluorescence. Canopy openness was measured above each study seedling and included in statistical analyses to account for variation in light availability. Foliar N concentration increased by 20% with N addition. Foliar P concentration increased by 78% with P addition and decreased by 14% with N addition. Foliar K increased by 8% with K addition. Foliar δ(13)C showed no significant responses, and foliar δ(15)N decreased strongly with N addition, matching the low δ(15)N values of applied fertilizer. Canopy openness ranged from 0.01 to 6.71% with a mean of 1.76 ± 0.14 (± 1SE). Maximum photosynthetic CO(2) assimilation rate increased by 9% with N addition. Stomatal conductance increased with P addition and with P and K in combination. Chlorophyll fluorescence measurements revealed that quantum yield of photosystem II increased with K addition, maximum electron transport rate trended 9% greater with N addition (p = 0.07), and saturating photosynthetically active radiation increased with N addition. The results demonstrate that nutrient addition can enhance photosynthetic processes, even under low light availability.

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