Shifts in the elemental composition of plants during a very severe drought

Ifigenia Urbina, Jordi Sardans, Carl Beierkuhnlein, Anke Jentsch, Sabrina Backhaus, Kerstin Grant, Juergen Kreyling, Josep Peñuelas

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    35 Citations (Scopus)


    © 2014. Diverse plant functions (e.g., growth, storage, defense and anti-stress mechanisms) use elements disproportionally. We hypothesized that plants growing under different abiotic and biotic conditions would shift their elemental compositions in response to a very severe drought. We tested this hypothesis by investigating the changes in foliar stoichiometry and species composition from a very severe drought. We also tested the effects of previous droughts (acclimation) on this response. Different species growing in the same community responded more similarly to a very severe drought than did individual species growing in different communities. The stoichiometric shifts were thus more community-dependent than species-dependent. The results also suggested that plants grown in monoculture were less stoichiometrically plastic during the drought than plants grown in a more diverse community. Previous exposure to long-term drought treatments in the same communities did not significantly affect the stoichiometric shifts during the new drought. Differential use of resources may have been responsible for these responses. Monocultured plants, which used the same resources in similar proportions, had more difficulty avoiding direct competition when the resources became scarcer. Moreover, each species tested had a particular elemental composition in all communities and climatic treatments. The differences in foliar elemental compositions were largest between plant functional groups (shrubs and grasses) and smallest among species within the same functional group. Global principal components analyses (PCAs) identified a general tendency for all species, independently of the community in which they grew, toward lower concentrations of K, N, P, Mg and S, and to higher concentrations of C and Fe as the drought advanced. This study has demonstrated the utility of analyses of differences and shifts in plant elemental composition for understanding the processes underlying the responses of plants to changes in biotic and abiotic environmental conditions.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)63-73
    JournalEnvironmental and Experimental Botany
    Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2015


    • Biogeochemical niche
    • Ecological stoichiometry
    • Elemental composition
    • Extreme drought
    • Nitrogen
    • Phosphorus


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