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Oecologia. 2006 Oct;149(4):668-75. Epub 2006 Jun 28.

Do high-tannin leaves require more roots?

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School of Forestry, Northern Arizona University, Flagstaff, AZ 86011, USA.


The well-known deceleration of nitrogen (N) cycling in the soil resulting from addition of large amounts of foliar condensed tannins may require increased fine-root growth in order to meet plant demands for N. We examined correlations between fine-root production, plant genetics, and leaf secondary compounds in Populus angustifolia, P. fremontii, and their hybrids. We measured fine-root (<2 mm) production and leaf chemistry along an experimental genetic gradient where leaf litter tannin concentrations are genetically based and exert strong control on net N mineralization in the soil. Fine-root production was highly correlated with leaf tannins and individual tree genetic composition based upon genetic marker estimates, suggesting potential genetic control of compensatory root growth in response to accumulation of foliar secondary compounds in soils. We suggest, based on previous studies in our system and the current study, that genes for tannin production could link foliar chemistry and root growth, which may provide a powerful setting for external feedbacks between above- and belowground processes.

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