Alterations in leaf nitrogen metabolism indicated the structural changes of subtropical forest by canopy addition of nitrogen
Globally, nitrogen deposition increment has caused forest structural changes due to imbalanced plant nitrogen metabolism and subsequent carbon assimilation. Here, a 2 consecutive-year experiment was conducted to reveal the effects of canopy addition of nitrogen (CAN) on nitrogen absorption, assimilation, and allocation in leaves of three subtropical forest woody species (Castanea henryi, Ardisia quinquegona, and Blastus cochinchinensis). We hypothesized that CAN altered leaf nitrogen absorption, assimilation and partitioning of different plants in different ways in subtropical forest. It shows that CAN increased maximum photosynthetic rate (Amax), photosynthetic nitrogen use efficiency (PNUE), and metabolic protein content of the two understory species A. quinquegona and B. cochinchinensis. By contrary, for the overstory species, C. henryi, Amax, PNUE, and metabolic protein content were significantly reduced in response to CAN. We found that changes in leaf nitrogen metabolism were mainly due to the differences in enzyme (e.g. Ribulose-1,5-bisphosphate carboxylase, nitrate reductase, nitrite reductase and glutamine synthetase) activities under CAN treatment. Our results indicated that C. henryi may be more susceptible to CAN treatment, and both A. quinquegona and B. cochinchinensis could better adapt to CAN treatment but in different ways. Our findings may partially explain the ongoing degradation of subtropical forest into a community dominated by small trees and shrubs in recent decades. It is possible that persistent high levels of atmospheric nitrogen deposition will lead to the steady replacement of dominant woody species in this subtropical forest.