Compensatory growth of two clonal dwarf shrubs, Arctostaphylos uva-ursi and Vaccinium uliginosum in a heavy metal polluted environment

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The effect of artificial shoot clipping on the vegetative growth and sexual reproduction of the evergreen bearberry, Arctostaphylos uva-ursi, and the deciduous bog bilberry, Vaccinium uliginosum, was studied in the vicinity of a copper-nickel smelter in SW Finland. According to the research hypothesis, heavy metal induced shoot death breaks the apical dominance in the clones growing in a polluted environment. This causes activation of dormant axillary and adventitious buds and an increase in branching on the older parts of the stem. Regrowth after shoot death was studied by clipping off all the current-year shoots from experimental branches in autumn (1994) and spring (1995). Within-clone and between-clone control branches were used to test the data.

Both species displayed a considerable ability to activate dormant meristems after the damage. Regrowth of the current shoots during the next growing season (1995) was about 80% compared to the within-clone control in both species after autumn clipping. Shoot clipping in early summer was more detrimental for both species, and the regrowth of A. uva-ursi was less than that of V. uliginosum. Differences in the storage reserves and source-sink mechanisms of carbon allocation between evergreen and deciduous species probably explain their distinct response. When the removed biomass was added to the living biomass of the branches, there was overcompensation in the total dry weight of A. uva-ursi after autumn clipping, and the weight was almost 90% of the control after spring clipping. The total dry weight of V. uliginosum also equalled that of the control when the removed biomass was added. No berries developed on either species in the year following the autumn treatment, because clipping removed all the flower buds. Spring clipping had no effect on the sexual reproduction of A. uva-ursi, but decreased the berry production of V. uliginosum. The degree of compensatory growth of both species was only slightly affected by the distance from the smelter. It is suggested that dormant bud activation, rapid regrowth and plastic branching contribute to the resistance mechanism to heavy metals.

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