Individual plant species or genotypes often differ in their demand for nutrients; to compete in a community they must be able to acquire more nutrients (i.e., uptake efficiency) and/or use them more efficiently for biomass production than their competitors. These two mechanisms are often complementary, as there are inherent trade-offs between them. In a mixed-stand, species with contrasting nutrient use patterns interact and may use their resources to increase productivity in different ways. Under contrasting nutrient availabilities, the competitive advantages conferred by either strategy may also shift, so that the interaction between resource use strategy and resource availability ultimately determines the performance of individual genotypes in mixtures. The aim was to investigate growth and nitrogen (N) use efficiency of two willow (Salix) genotypes grown in monoculture and mixture in a fertilizer contrast. We explored the hypotheses that (1) the biomass production of at least one of the involved genotypes should be greater when grown in mixture as compared to the corresponding monoculture when nutrients are the most growth-limiting factor; and (2) the N economy of individual genotypes differs when grown in mixture compared to the corresponding monoculture. The genotypes 'Tora' (Salix schwerinii ×S. viminalis) and 'Loden' (S. dasyclados), with contrasting phenology and functional traits, were grown from cuttings in a growth container experiment under two nutrient fertilization treatments (high and low) in mono- and mixed-culture for 17 weeks. Under low nutrient level, 'Tora' showed a higher biomass production (aboveground biomass, leaf area productivity) and N uptake efficiency in mixture than in monoculture, whereas 'Loden' showed the opposite pattern. In addition, 'Loden' showed higher leaf N productivity but lower N uptake efficiency than 'Tora.' The results demonstrated that the specific functional trait combinations of individual genotypes affect their response to mixture as compared to monoculture. Plants grown in mixture as opposed to monoculture may thus increase biomass and vary in their response of N use efficiency traits. However, young plants were investigated here, and as we cannot predict mixture response in mature stands, our results need to be validated at field scale.
Keywords: Salix; biomass allocation; biomass production; community level; nitrogen use efficiency; plant competition; willow.