Nitrogen sources for current-year shoot growth in 50-year-old sessile oak trees: an in situ 15N labeling approach

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We used long-term in situ 15N labeling of the soil to investigate the contribution of the two main nitrogen (N) sources (N uptake versus N reserves) to sun shoot growth from bud burst to full leaf expansion in 50-year-old sessile oaks. Recovery of 15N by growing compartments (leaves, twigs and buds) and presence of 15N in phloem sap were checked weekly. During the first 2 weeks following bud burst, remobilized N contributed ∼90% of total N in growing leaves and twigs. Nitrogen uptake from the soil started concomitantly with N remobilization but contributed only slightly to bud burst. However, the fraction of total N due to N uptake increased markedly once bud burst had occurred, reaching 27% in fully expanded leaves and 18% in developed twigs. In phloem sap, the 15N label appeared a few days after the beginning of labeling and increased until the end of bud burst, and then decreased at full leaf expansion in June. Of all the shoot compartments, leaves attracted most of the absorbed N, which accounted for 68% of new N in shoots, whereas twigs and new buds accounted for only 28 and 3%, respectively. New N allocated to leaves increased from unfolding to full expansion as total N concentration in the leaves decreased. Our results underline the crucial role played by stored N in rapid leaf growth and in the sustained growth of oak trees. Any factors that reduce N storage in autumn may therefore impair spring shoot growth.

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