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Tree Physiol. 2004 Jun;24(6):671-9.

Variation in nitrogen supply changes water-use efficiency of Pseudotsuga menziesii and Populus x euroamericana; a comparison of three approaches to determine water-use efficiency.

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Dipartimento di Produzione Vegetale, Università della Basilicata, 85100 Potenza, Italy.


We studied the effects of three nitrogen (N) supply rates (low, intermediate and high) on Douglas-fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii (Mirb.) Franco) seedlings and poplar clone "I-214" (Populus x euroamericana (Dole) Guinier) cuttings growing in mini-stands. Our specific objectives were to: (1) evaluate the effects of N supply on water-use efficiency (WUE) and biomass production; (2) determine if N affects WUE through control of carbon assimilation rates or through stomatal control of water loss; and (3) compare three methods of estimating WUE: one short-term method (WUE(i), based on gas exchange measurements) and two long-term methods (WUE(T), based on the ratio between biomass production and transpired water, and Delta, based on leaf carbon isotope discrimination tested as a proxy of WUE). In both species, biomass production, WUE(i) and WUE(T) increased with increasing N supply, but there was no effect of N supply on either transpiration or stomatal conductance and Delta was negatively related to leaf N concentration. Plots of Delta versus both WUE(i) and WUE(T) revealed negative trends, but the regression between WUE(i) and Delta was significant only for Douglas-fir, and the regression between WUE(T) and Delta was significant only for poplar. Thus, the mechanisms underlying the response of WUE to N supply were mainly related to a positive effect of N supply on photosynthetic rates. The data confirm that carbon isotope discrimination may be a useful proxy of WUE. The finding that N availability enhances both biomass production and WUE may have practical implications in regions where these factors impose constraints on forest productivity.

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