Nav: Home

Cycad plants provide an important 'ecosystem service'

July 26, 2020

A study published in the June 2020 edition of the peer-reviewed journal Horticulturae shows that cycads, which are in decline and among the world's most threatened group of plants, provide an important service to their neighboring organisms. The study, completed by researchers from the Western Pacific Tropical Research Center at the University of Guam and the Montgomery Botanical Center in Miami, found that at least two cycad species share nitrogen and carbon through the soil, thereby creating habitable environments for other organisms.

"The new knowledge from this study shows how loss of cycad plants from natural habitats may create detrimental ripple effects that negatively influence the other organisms that evolved to depend on their ecosystem services," said Patrick Griffith, executive director of the Montgomery Botanical Center.

Cycad plants host nitrogen-fixing cyanobacteria within specialized roots. The tiny microbes willingly share the newly acquired nitrogen with their hosts as their contribution to a symbiosis that benefits both organisms.

Research teams at the University of Guam have long been studying the nutrient relations of Cycas micronesica throughout its endemic range, according to Adrian Ares, associate director of the Western Pacific Tropical Research Center.

"This unique arborescent cycad species is of cultural and ecological importance, and the findings illuminate new knowledge about the ecosystem services that are provided by the plant," Ares said.

The study focused on the concentrations in soil of three elements that impact the growth and development of living organisms. In soils nearby the cycad plants, nitrogen and carbon increased to concentrations that exceeded those of soils that were distant from the plants. In contrast, phosphorus concentrations were depleted in the soils nearby the cycad plants when compared to the distant soils.

"In addition to the direct contributions of carbon and nitrogen to the bulk soils, the chemical changes imposed by the cycad plants created niche habitats that increased spatial heterogeneity in the native forests," Ares said, adding that ecosystems with high biodiversity are generally more resistant to damage by threats and more resilient after the negative impacts.

The niche spaces created by the cycad plants provide the soil food web with a microhabitat that differs from the surrounding forest soils. These soils imprinted by the cycad plants benefit the organisms that exploit spaces characterized by greater nitrogen levels relative to phosphorus and greater carbon levels relative to phosphorus. Scientists call these elemental relationships "stoichiometry," and much has been studied about the importance of these relationships to organismal health and productivity.

The model cycad plants that were employed for the study included two of the cycad species that are native to the United States.

"This study was apropos because the Montgomery Botanical Center is positioned within Zamia integrifolia habitat in Miami, Fla., and the Western Pacific Tropical Research Center is within Cycas micronesica habitat in Mangilao, Guam," Griffith said.

The Florida species is the only cycad species that is native to the continental United States, and the Guam species is the only Cycas species native to the United States.

"Both research teams were gratified to successfully answer questions that were asked of the botanical denizens that have long resided in the respective local forests," Griffith said.
-end-
Further Reading: Marler, T.E. and M. Calonje. 2020. Two cycad species affect the carbon, nitrogen, and phosphorus content of soils. Horticulturae 6:24. DOI 10.3390/horticulturae6020024.

University of Guam

Related Nitrogen Articles:

Reducing nitrogen with boron and beer
The industrial conversion of nitrogen to ammonium provides fertiliser for agriculture.
New nitrogen products are in the air
A nifty move with nitrogen has brought the world one step closer to creating a range of useful products -- from dyes to pharmaceuticals -- out of thin air.
'Black nitrogen'
In the periodic table of elements there is one golden rule for carbon, oxygen, and other light elements.
A deep dive into better understanding nitrogen impacts
This special issue presents a selection of 13 papers that advance our understanding of cascading consequences of reactive nitrogen species along their emission, transport, deposition, and the impacts in the atmosphere.
How does an increase in nitrogen application affect grasslands?
The 'PaNDiv' experiment, established by researchers of the University of Bern on a 3000 m2 field site, is the largest biodiversity-ecosystem functioning experiment in Switzerland and aims to better understand how increases in nitrogen affect grasslands.
Reducing reliance on nitrogen fertilizers with biological nitrogen fixation
Crop yields have increased substantially over the past decades, occurring alongside the increasing use of nitrogen fertilizer.
Flushing nitrogen from seawater-based toilets
With about half the world's population living close to the coast, using seawater to flush toilets could be possible with a salt-tolerant bacterium.
We must wake up to devastating impact of nitrogen, say scientists
More than 150 top international scientists are calling on the world to take urgent action on nitrogen pollution, to tackle the widespread harm it is causing to humans, wildlife and the planet.
How nitrogen-fixing bacteria sense iron
New research reveals how nitrogen-fixing bacteria sense iron - an essential but deadly micronutrient.
Corals take control of nitrogen recycling
Corals use sugar from their symbiotic algal partners to control them by recycling nitrogen from their own ammonium waste.
More Nitrogen News and Nitrogen Current Events

Trending Science News

Current Coronavirus (COVID-19) News

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2020.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Listen Again: The Power Of Spaces
How do spaces shape the human experience? In what ways do our rooms, homes, and buildings give us meaning and purpose? This hour, TED speakers explore the power of the spaces we make and inhabit. Guests include architect Michael Murphy, musician David Byrne, artist Es Devlin, and architect Siamak Hariri.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#576 Science Communication in Creative Places
When you think of science communication, you might think of TED talks or museum talks or video talks, or... people giving lectures. It's a lot of people talking. But there's more to sci comm than that. This week host Bethany Brookshire talks to three people who have looked at science communication in places you might not expect it. We'll speak with Mauna Dasari, a graduate student at Notre Dame, about making mammals into a March Madness match. We'll talk with Sarah Garner, director of the Pathologists Assistant Program at Tulane University School of Medicine, who takes pathology instruction out of...
Now Playing: Radiolab

What If?
There's plenty of speculation about what Donald Trump might do in the wake of the election. Would he dispute the results if he loses? Would he simply refuse to leave office, or even try to use the military to maintain control? Last summer, Rosa Brooks got together a team of experts and political operatives from both sides of the aisle to ask a slightly different question. Rather than arguing about whether he'd do those things, they dug into what exactly would happen if he did. Part war game part choose your own adventure, Rosa's Transition Integrity Project doesn't give us any predictions, and it isn't a referendum on Trump. Instead, it's a deeply illuminating stress test on our laws, our institutions, and on the commitment to democracy written into the constitution. This episode was reported by Bethel Habte, with help from Tracie Hunte, and produced by Bethel Habte. Jeremy Bloom provided original music. Support Radiolab by becoming a member today at Radiolab.org/donate.     You can read The Transition Integrity Project's report here.