Functional plasticity of Trifolium repens L. in response to sulphur and nitrogen availability

Sébastien Varin, Servane Lemauviel-Lavenant, Jean Bernard Cliquet, Sylvain Diquélou, Terence Padraic Thomas Michaelson-Yeates

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12 Citations (SciVal)


Recent control of atmospheric SO2 pollution is leading to important soil sulphur impoverishment. Plasticity could be a mechanism allowing species to adapt to this rapid global change. Trifolium repens L. is a key grassland species whose performances in community are strongly linked to nitrogen availability. Plasticity of three white clover lines contrasting in their ability to use atmospheric N2 or soil N was assessed by analysing a set of functional traits along a gradient of nitrogen and sulphur fertilisation applied on a poor soil. White clover traits showed high morphological and physiological plasticity. Nitrogen appeared to be the most limiting factor for the VLF (Very Low Fixation) line. S was the element that modulated the most traits for the nitrogen fixing lines NNU (Normal Nitrate Uptake) and LNU (Low Nitrate Uptake). As expected, N fertilisation inhibited white clover fixation, but we also observed that N2 fixation was enhanced when S was added. S fertilisation increased nodule length as well as the proportion of nodules containing leghaemoglobin. S fertilisation, with a direct effect and an indirect effect through N2 fixation, increases white clover performances particularly with regards to photosynthesis and potential vegetative reproduction. The important plasticity in response to S availability should allow it to adapt to a large range of abiotic conditions, but its sensitivity to S nutrition would be a disadvantage for competition in a situation of soil sulphur impoverishment. In contrast, S fertilisation could help maintain this species when nitrogen status is against it.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)189-200
Number of pages12
JournalPlant and Soil
Issue number1-2
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2009


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