Chin J Plant Ecol ›› 2021, Vol. 45 ›› Issue (7): 714-727.DOI: 10.17521/cjpe.2021.0160

Special Issue: 生态化学计量

• Review • Previous Articles     Next Articles

Temporal trends of plant nutrient-acquisition strategies with soil age and their ecological significance

LI Xiao-Long1,4, ZHOU Jun1,*(), PENG Fei2, ZHONG Hong-Tao3, Hans LAMBERS3   

  1. 1Institute of Mountain Hazards and Environment, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Chengdu 610041, China
    2Key Laboratory of Desert and Desertification, Northwest Institute of Eco-Environment and Resources, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Lanzhou 730000, China
    3School of Biological Sciences and Institute of Agriculture, University of Western Australia, 35 Stirling Highway, Perth, WA 6009, Australia
    4University of Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing 100049, China
  • Received:2021-04-23 Accepted:2021-06-15 Online:2021-07-20 Published:2021-10-22
  • Contact: ZHOU Jun ORCID:0000-0001-7315-6645
  • Supported by:
    National Natural Science Foundation of China(42077005);Sichuan Science and Technology Program(2019YJ0008)


Changes in soil nutrient availability and primary succession of vegetation often co-occur during the processes of natural soil development. A low availability of nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P) resources is common in the very early and late stage of soil development, respectively. Plants have evolved different nutrient-acquisition strategies (NASs) in response to low nutrient availability. Although the changes and responses of plant NASs to soil nutrients may affect primary succession and species diversity, the temporal trends and underlying mechanisms of plant NASs with soil development remain unknown. We reviewed 104 studies mainly carried out on soil chronosequences to clarify changes in plant NASs with soil age and its ecological significance. We classify plant NASs into Fine root, Microbial, Specialized root, Carnivorous and Parasitic strategies. We argue that the diversity of plant NASs changes with increasing soil age following a dumbbell-pattern, while reaching the maximum in the late stage of soil development. The role of Microbial and Fine root strategies in plants acquiring nutrients gradually decreases with increasing soil age, while the minimum and maximum role of Specialized root strategies in plants acquiring P is in the intermediate and late stages of soil development, respectively. The effects of NASs on interspecific relationships of plants vary with soil age. Specifically, pioneer plants with biological N fixation and specialized root strategies usually increase available soil N and regolith-derived nutrients to facilitate the colonization of subsequent plants in the early stage of soil development. During the early-intermediate stage, NASs mainly affect plant competitiveness in acquiring relatively abundantly available nutrients from soil. The facilitation and competition affected by NASs contribute to plant species turnover in the first two stages. In the late stage, diverse NASs enable plants to acquire distinct forms of nutrients from different soil spaces and complementary NASs enable plants to take up soil nutrients mobilized by their neighbors. Together with the interactions between NASs and soil pathogens, these processes contribute the coexistence and diversity of plant species in this stage when most soil nutrients have a very low availability. We propose that it is necessary to quantify the relationships between changes in soil nutrient availability (including concentrations and fractions) and plant NASs with soil age. More studies are also needed to quantify contributions of NASs to primary succession, diversity of plant species and soil development.

Key words: root traits, mycorrhizal symbiosis, cluster root, rhizosphere exudates, biodiversity, primary succession, pedogenesis, chronosequence