Assessing nitrogen fixation in mixed- and single-species plantations of Eucalyptus globulus and Acacia mearnsii
Computing, Health and Science
School of Natural Sciences
Mixtures of Eucalyptus globulus Labill. and Acacia mearnsii de Wildeman are twice as productive as E. globulus monocultures growing on the same site in East Gippsland, Victoria, Australia, possibly because of increased nitrogen (N) availability owing to N2 fixation by A. mearnsii. To investigate whether N2 fixation by A. mearnsiicould account for the mixed-species growth responses, we assessed N2 fixation by the accretion method and the 15N natural abundance method. Nitrogen gained by E. globulus and A. mearnsii mixtures and monocultures was calculated by the accretion method with plant and soil samples collected 10 years after plantation establishment. Nitrogen in biomass and soil confirmed that A. mearnsii influenced N dynamics. Assuming that the differences in soil, forest floor litter and biomass N of plots containing A. mearnsii compared with E. globulus monocultures were due to N2 fixation, the 10-year annual mean rates of N2 fixation were 38 and 86 kg ha−1 year−1 in 1:1 mixtures and A. mearnsiimonocultures, respectively. Nitrogen fixation by A. mearnsiicould not be quantified on the basis of the natural abundance of 15N because such factors as mycorrhization type and fractionation of N isotopes during N cycling within the plant confounded the effect of the N source on the N isotopic signature of plants. This study shows that A. mearnsii fixed significant quantities of N2 when mixed with E. globulus. A decline in δ15N values of E. globulus and A. mearnsii with time, from 2 to 10 years, is further evidence that N2 was fixed and cycled through the stands. The increased aboveground biomass production of E. globulus trees in mixtures when compared with monocultures can be attributed to increases in N availability.