Competitive interactions shape plant responses to nitrogen fertilization and drought: evidence from a microcosm experiment with Lilium bulbiferum L. and Secale cereale L.

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Authors

Many recent studies have analysed plant species responses to environmental change, but interactive effects of global change drivers and how they are modulated by biotic interactions are still poorly understood. In a mesocosm experiment, we studied the interactive effects of nitrogen (N) fertilization and drought events on plant growth and how these effects are shaped by competitive interactions, using a segetal plant community typical of the lowlands of central Europe (composed of Lilium bulbiferum (segetal species) and Secale cereale (crop species)). We expected that N fertilization increases the drought sensitivity of Lilium (negative interaction effect), and that these effects are shaped by interspecific competition with Secale. Secale and Lilium showed opposing responses to N fertilization (second year of the experiment): Whilst Secale aboveground and belowground biomass almost doubled with N fertilization, Lilium aboveground and belowground biomass showed no response or decreased, respectively, providing Secale with a competitive advantage. Lilium aboveground tissue dieback (as a proxy for growth vigour) was 22% in N and 35% in drought treatments (control: 6%), but reached 91% when combining these treatments. Increasing Lilium tissue dieback was strongly related to decreasing belowground (root) biomass, caused by both negative direct effects of combined treatments (N fertilization + drought), and negative indirect effects acting via treatment-induced increase in Secale biomass. Our results demonstrate that competitive interactions can shape the effects of global change drivers on plant growth. This knowledge in turn could be important for plant species conservation, particularly in the face of ongoing shifts in environmental conditions.

Original languageEnglish
JournalPlant Ecology
Volume223
Issue number4
Pages (from-to)437-451
Number of pages15
ISSN1385-0237
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 01.04.2022

Bibliographical note

Open Access funding enabled and organized by Projekt DEAL. This study was funded by the German Federal Environmental Foundation, Osnabrück, Germany (DBU; Grant number: AZ20015/361).

    Research areas

  • Ecosystems Research - δ13C signature, Global Change, interspecific competition, root:shoot ratio, Segetal plants