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Do co-occurring plants avoid competing for N?


All plants require nitrogen, so how can species co-exist if they're competing for the same limiting resource? This project will examine the hypothesis that plants avoid competing for nitrogen by taking up N in different chemical forms.


Associate Professor Charles Warren.

Research location

School of Life and Environmental Sciences

Program type



How is it that plant species can co-exist when they require the same resources? This conundrum applies especially to nitrogen because it is one of the nutrients that most commonly limits plant growth. Plants could in theory avoid competing for nitrogen by specializing in uptake of different chemical forms (e.g. acquire N as nitrate vs ammonium vs amino acids) (e.g. so-called “niche differentiation”). Past studies examining niche differentiation considered whether plants could avoid competing by taking up N as nitrate, ammonium or amino acids; but we know from more recent studies that N exists in soils in a far broader variety of chemical forms (Warren, 2013). For example we know soils contain quaternary ammonium compounds, polyamines, nucleobases, and small peptides. Hence, the aim with this project is to revisit the old question of chemical niche differentiation and if it permits co-existence of potentially competing plants species. This project will make use of controlled environment and field experiments involving isotope labeling and mass spectrometry. Warren, C.R., 2013. High diversity of small organic N observed in soil water. Soil Biology & Biochemistry 57, 444-450.

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Opportunity ID

The opportunity ID for this research opportunity is 2853

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