St. Clair, S.B.; Carlson, J.E.; Lynch, J.P.


Oecologia, Springer-Verlag GmbH, Volume 145, Issue 2, Germany, p.258-269 (2005)

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Soil acidification and the disruption of nutrient cycles appear to be important factors that weaken sugar maple resistance to both abiotic and biotic stresses and predispose it to decline symptoms. Although connections between edaphic stress and decline symptoms have been identified, very little is known about the physiological and biochemical mechanisms that underlie this relationship. In this study, we tested the hypothesis that foliar nutrient imbalances impair the photosynthetic apparatus of sugar maple through oxidative stress. We examined leaf nutrition, photosynthesis and antioxidant enzyme activity (a biomarker of oxidative stress) from early June to late August in three-paired overstorey sugar maple stands on Pennsylvania's Allegheny Plateau that contrast in soil nutrient availability according to slope position. Beginning in early June, trees on upper slopes (nutrient-poor) had significantly lower foliar Ca and Mg concentrations and significantly higher foliar Mn concentrations than trees on lower slopes. These differences increased throughout summer peaking in late August. Photosynthesis and antioxidant enzyme activity closely reflected changes in foliar nutrient status throughout the summer. In the latter half of the summer, leaf gas exchange and chlorophyll content were significantly lower and antioxidant enzyme activity was significantly higher in stands on upper slope soils. At the end of August, leaf nutrient imbalances corresponded with lower rates of photosynthesis and higher antioxidant enzyme activity, suggesting that foliar nutrient imbalances may impair sugar maple function through mechanisms of oxidative stress.