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Tree Physiol. 2010 Sep;30(9):1192-208. doi: 10.1093/treephys/tpq035. Epub 2010 May 14.

The influence of mixed tree plantations on the nutrition of individual species: a review.

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CSIRO Sustainable Ecosystems, Tropical Ecosystems Research Centre, PMB 44, Winnellie, Northern Territory 0822, Australia.


Productivity of tree plantations is a function of the supply, capture and efficiency of use of resources, as outlined in the Production Ecology Equation. Species interactions in mixed-species stands can influence each of these variables. The importance of resource-use efficiency in determining forest productivity has been clearly demonstrated in monocultures; however, substantial knowledge gaps remain for mixtures. This review examines how the physiology and morphology of a given species can vary depending on whether it grows in a mixture or monoculture. We outline how physiological and morphological shifts within species, resulting from interactions in mixtures, may influence the three variables of the Production Ecology Equation, with an emphasis on nutrient resources [nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P)]. These include (i) resource availability, including soil nutrient mineralization, N₂ fixation and litter decomposition; (ii) proportion of resources captured, resulting from shifts in spatial, temporal and chemical patterns of root dynamics; (iii) resource-use efficiency. We found that more than 50% of mixed-species studies report a shift to greater above-ground nutrient content of species grown in mixtures compared to monocultures, indicating an increase in the proportion of resources captured from a site. Secondly, a meta-analysis showed that foliar N concentrations significantly increased for a given species in a mixture containing N₂-fixing species, compared to a monoculture, suggesting higher rates of photosynthesis and greater resource-use efficiency. Significant shifts in N- and P-use efficiencies of a given species, when grown in a mixture compared to a monoculture, occurred in over 65% of studies where resource-use efficiency could be calculated. Such shifts can result from changes in canopy photosynthetic capacities, changes in carbon allocation or changes to foliar nutrient residence times of species in a mixture. We recommend that future research focus on individual species' changes, particularly with respect to resource-use efficiency (including nutrients, water and light), when trees are grown in mixtures compared to monocultures. A better understanding of processes responsible for changes to tree productivity in mixed-species tree plantations can improve species, and within-species, selection so that the long-term outcome of mixtures is more predictable.

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