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Oecologia. 2003 May;135(4):606-14. Epub 2003 Apr 9.

Litter of the hemiparasite Bartsia alpina enhances plant growth: evidence for a functional role in nutrient cycling.

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  • 1Department of Animal and Plant Sciences, University of Sheffield, Sheffield, S10 2TN, UK.


Hemiparasitic angiosperms concentrate nutrients in their leaves and also produce high quality litter, which can decompose faster and release more nutrients than that of surrounding species. The impact of these litters on plant growth may be particularly important in nutrient-poor communities where hemiparisites can be abundant, such as the sub-Arctic. We tested the hypothesis that plant growth is enhanced by the litter of the hemiparasite Bartsia alpina, in comparison with litter of co-occurring dwarf shrub species, using a pot based bioassay approach. Growth of Betula nana and Poa alpina was up to 51% and 41% greater, respectively, in the presence of Bartsia alpina litter than when grown with dwarf shrub litter (Vaccinium uliginosum, Betula nana and Empetrum nigrum subsp. hermaphroditum). The nutrient concentrations of Betula nana plants grown with Bartsia alpina litter were almost double those of plants grown with dwarf shrub litter, and a significantly greater proportion of biomass was allocated to shoots rather than roots, strongly suggesting that nutrient availability was higher where Bartsia alpina litter was present. The presence of litter from dwarf shrubs, or the moss Hylocomium splendens, did not reduce the positive effect of Bartsia alpina litter on plant growth. E. nigrum litter did not appear to affect plant growth substantially differently from litter of other dwarf shrub species, despite earlier reports of its allelopathic action. The enhanced nutrient uptake and growth of plants in the presence of Bartsia alpina (and potentially other hemiparasitic species) litter could have important implications for communities in which it occurs, including enhanced survival of seedlings of co-occurring species and increased resource patchiness.

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