Adaptive significance of nitrogen storage in Bistorta bistortoides, an alpine herb

Charles H. Jaeger, Russell K. Monson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

55 Scopus citations


Studies were conducted to examine the importance of nitrogen storage to seasonal aboveground growth in the alpine herb Bistorta bistortoides. Stored reserves accounted for 60% of the total nitrogen allocated to the shoot during the growing season. The stored nitrogen was equally partitioned between preformed buds of the shoot and the roots/rhizome. Reliance on stored N was similar in populations of a 105-day growing season site and of a 75-day growing season site. Contrary to our initial hypothesis, stored nitrogen reserves were not used to extend the growing season of this species into the late-spring when soils are still cold, and saturated with snow-melt water. The time at which stored nitrogen was used to initiate shoot growth coincided with the time of root initiation, rapid soil warming, and near maximum soil concentrations of NOinf3sup-and NHinf4sup+. Thus, nitrogen demand and soil nitrogen supply were both high at the same time. The importance of nitrogen storage in this species appeared to be in satisfying the high demand of simultaneous vegetative and reproductive growth during the early-growing season after soils thawed. The initiation of rapid leaf and inflorescence growth occurred in mid-June in both sites. The maximum pool size of shoot nitrogen (maximum nitrogen demand) occurred only 12 days later in the long season site, and 28 days later in the short season site. The early-season utilization of nitrogen stores allows plants of this species to initiate reproductive allocation at the same time vegetative tissues are exhibiting maximal growth rates. By releasing vegetative and reproductive growth from competition for nitrogen, seeds could mature early in the alpine growing season, before the frost probability sharply increases in mid-August.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)578-585
Number of pages8
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 1992


  • Allocation
  • Bistorta bistortoides
  • Growth
  • Nitrogen
  • Storage

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


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