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Sensitivity of seedling growth to phosphorus supply in six tree species of the Australian Great Western Woodlands

Sensitivity of seedling growth to phosphorus supply in six tree species of the Australian Great Western Woodlands

Australian Journal of Botany 67(5): 390-396

ISSN/ISBN: 0067-1924

Many Australian native plants from regions with ancient, highly weathered soils have specialised adaptations for acquiring phosphorus (P) and can exhibit negative effects of excess P supply on growth and survival. Despite this, fertiliser (including P) is routinely applied in post-mining and other restoration schemes. In this study we investigated the effect of a range of applied P on the growth and tissue P concentrations for six woody species from the Great Western Woodlands (GWW) of Western Australia - a region that it not only biodiverse, but that has experienced significant levels of mining related activities. Our data from a pot-based experiment show that all six species exhibited greater growth with increased P application up to 15 mg kg sand(-1). However, at P concentrations in excess of 15 mg kg(-1), dry mass accumulation did not increase further for three of the species tested. For the other three species, dry mass accumulation declined as the P concentration increased above 15 mg kg-1. For all of the study species, root and shoot P concentrations increased as the concentration of applied P increased. The internal shoot P concentration, at which dry matter accumulation either plateaued or started to decline, was in the range 1.95 to 3.2 mg P g(-1) dry matter. This was similar to 2-4 times the concentration found in natural vegetation. These data suggest that in a restoration context, there is a potential risk that, excess P application may decrease plant growth rates for some species. Consequently, the addition of fertiliser to restored sites may have unpredictable impacts on the plant community by directly reducing the growth of some species but increasing the growth of others. We suggest that careful consideration should be given to designing appropriate fertiliser regimes for land restoration schemes in ancient P deplete landscapes to avoid the risk that fertiliser addition has the unwanted outcome of decreasing growth and survival of the target native species and increasing the abundance of unwanted weeds or aggressive pioneer species.

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