Changes in Carbohydrate and Nutrient Contents Throughout a Reproductive Cycle Indicate that Phosphorus is a Limiting Nutrient in the Epiphytic Bromeliad, Werauhia sanguinolenta

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Abstract

Background and Aims

This study examined the physiological basis of the cost of reproduction in the epiphytic bromeliad Werauhia sanguinolenta, growing in situ in a tropical lowland forest in Panama.

Methods

Entire mature plants were sampled repeatedly over the course of 2 years, which represents the common interval between reproductive events. Due to the uncertainty concerning the appropriate currency of resource allocation to reproduction, the temporal changes of the contents of total non-structural carbohydrates (TNC) and of all major nutrient elements in different plant parts were studied (stems, green leaves, non-green leaf bases, roots and reproductive structures when present).

Key Results

Although TNC varied with time in all compartments, this variation was more related to seasonal fluctuations than to reproductive status. The contents of the nutrient elements, N, P, K, Mg and S, on the other hand, showed significant differences between reproductive and non-reproductive individuals, while Ca did not change with reproductive status. Differences in nutrient contents were most pronounced in stems. Seeds were particularly enriched in P, much less so in N and the other nutrient elements. Model calculations of nutrient fluxes indicate that a plant needs about 2 years to accumulate the amount of P invested in a fruit crop, while the estimated uptake rates for N were much faster.

Conclusions

Since most mature individuals of this species fruit every other year, it is hypothesized that P is the prime limiting factor for reproduction. These findings therefore add to an increasing body of evidence that P rather than N is limiting growth and reproduction in vascular epiphytes.

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