2022 journal article
ACORN Review: NPK fertilizer use in loblolly pine plantations: Who are we really feeding?
Forest Ecology and Management.
• Loblolly pine shows variable response to fertilization. • Response variation may be influenced by ECM fungi colonizing loblolly roots. • Colonized pine roots depend on ECM symbioses for water and nutrient uptake. • Fertilizer regimes need to consider ECM nutrient response to optimize loblolly production. Optimizing loblolly pine ( Pinus taeda L.) productivity using fertilizers and various site management practices has been a goal of foresters for decades. Nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), and potassium (K) are the three most operationally applied fertilizers to loblolly pine silviculture and are of primary importance to their total productivity. Fertilizer recommendations for N, P, and K in loblolly pine are primarily made on abiotic factors such as site and soil characteristics, while the biological factors controlling nutrient uptake are typically overlooked in the production and optimization of these stands. Arguably the most important of these biological factors are the diverse ectomycorrhizal fungal (ECM) communities that colonize the fine roots of almost all loblolly pine trees. The mantle formed by ECM fungi on short-root tips presents a barrier for direct apoplastic uptake of N, P, and K from soil solution by pine roots. In well-colonized roots, the tree is dependent on symplastic fungal transport of N, P, and K foraged from the soil by the extraradical hyphal network. This raises the question: Who are we really feeding if the ECM fungi are the ones assimilating most of the tree's total nutritional requirements? Considering multiple species of ECM fungi can inhabit a single root system, many questions remain regarding the drivers of colonization, why some species are more efficient at taking up and exchanging nutrients with their hosts than others, and why certain fertilizers directly affect the morphology of ECM growth. The purposes of this review are (1) to explore how the most commonly commercially applied macronutrients, N, P, and K, affect the relationship between loblolly pine and ECM communities, and (2) to propose future directions to investigate, preserve, and manipulate these interactions in pine plantations to optimize productivity.