Separating plastic from ontogenetic and growth-limiting responses of plants to changes in resource availability can be challenging because there are a total of eight combinations of these three types of responses. These can, however, be uniquely distinguished on plots of root:shoot ratios against total biomass through time. We used this approach to separate ontogenetic, plastic, and growth-limiting responses of wild rice (Zizania palustris L.) to changes in nitrogen, phosphorus, and light availabilities. Relative growth rate was limited primarily by nitrogen but responded to increased light and phosphorus after nitrogen limitations were alleviated. Nitrogen addition increased relative growth rate because it simultaneously increased unit leaf rate, specific leaf area, and leaf weight ratio. Increased light did not change relative growth rate because decreased specific leaf area and leaf weight ratio compensated the increased unit leaf rate. Phosphorus did not change either relative growth rate or its underlying components. Plants responded ontogenetically to increased nitrogen and light availabilities by accelerating their developmental rate, and plastically by decreasing or increasing their root:shoot ratios, respectively. Plants did not respond either ontogenetically or plastically to increased phosphorus availability. Ontogenetic changes in growth can be separated from plastic and growth-limiting responses by plotting root:shoot ratio against total biomass in the context of the eight possible responses identified above, and also by examining how the underlying components of relative growth rate respond.
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Acknowledgments This research was supported by a grant from the National Science Foundation’s Ecosystems Ecology Program. We are grateful to the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, especially Nancy Schuldt and Tom House, for their assistance, support, and supply of sediment for this project. We thank two anonymous reviews for helpful comments.
- Growth analysis
- Resource availability
- Zizania palustris