Linking trait network to growth performance of submerged macrophytes in response to ammonium pulse

Guixiang Yuan*, Xiaoyao Tan, Peiqin Guo, Ke Xing, Zhenglong Chen, Dongbo Li, Sizhe Yu, Hui Peng, Wei Li*, Hui Fu, Erik Jeppesen

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journal/Conference contribution in journal/Contribution to newspaperJournal articleResearchpeer-review


Extreme precipitation events caused by climate change leads to large variation of nitrogen input to aquatic ecosystems. Our previous study demonstrated the significant effect of different ammonium pulse patterns (differing in magnitude and frequency) on submersed macrophyte growth based on six plant morphological traits. However, how connectivity among plant traits responds to nitrogen pulse changes, which in turn affects plant performance, has not yet been fully elucidated. The response of three common submersed macrophytes (Myriophyllum spicatum, Vallisneria natans and Potamogeton maackianus) to three ammonium pulse patterns was tested using plant trait network (PTN) analysis based on 18 measured physiological and morphological traits. We found that ammonium pulses enhanced trait connectivity in PTN, which may enable plants to assimilate ammonium and/or mitigate ammonium toxicity. Large input pulses with low frequency had stronger effects on PTNs compared to low input pulses with high frequency. Due to the cumulative and time-lagged effect of the plant response to the ammonium pulse, there was a profound and prolonged effect on plant performance after the release of the pulse. The highly connected traits in PTN were those related to biomass allocation (e.g., plant biomass, stem ratio, leaf ratio and ramet number) rather than physiological traits, while phenotype-related traits (e.g., plant height, root length and AB ratio) and energy storage-related traits (e.g., stem starch) were least connected. V. natans showed clear functional divergence among traits, making it more flexible to cope with unfavorable habitats (i.e., high input pulses with low frequencies). M. spicatum with high RGR revealed strong correlations among traits and thus supported nitrogen accumulation from favourable environments (i.e., low input pulses with high frequencies). Our study highlights the responses of PTN for submerged macrophytes to ammonium pulses depends on their intrinsic metabolic rates, the magnitude, frequency and duration of the pulses, and our results contribute to the understanding of the impact of resource pulses on the population dynamics of submersed macrophytes within the context of global climate change.

Original languageEnglish
Article number119403
JournalWater Research
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2023


  • Ammonium pulse
  • Plant trait network
  • Pulse size
  • Submerged macrophyte


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