Changes in dominant plant species can influence the net primary production (NPP) via changes in species traits, including nitrogen use efficiency (NUE) and belowground allocation enhancing N uptake, as well as soil N availability. We investigated changes in above- and belowground NPP, N uptake, and NUE in response to changes in soil N in natural forests and plantations, with and without changes in species compositions among the environmental gradient, respectively. In plantations, NPP increased with increasing availability of soil N in the presence of constant NUE and the proportion of belowground NPP to total NPP. However, in natural forests, aboveground, belowground, and total NPP were high for the available middle range soil N. Belowground NPP and the proportion of belowground NPP to total NPP in natural forests was positively related to aboveground NPP. Both belowground NPP and soil N mineralization rates explained stand N uptake rates. These results indicated that belowground allocation might facilitate aboveground NPP with enhancement of N uptake by root allocation. Stand NUE decreased with soil N availability in natural forests and was stable in plantations, and resulted in lower production in natural forests and higher production in plantations under high soil N availability. The community weighted mean (CWM) of N resorption efficiency was positively related to NUE. The CWM of juvenile root growth, as reported previously for planted juveniles, was positively related to belowground NPP allocation. In addition, the ranges of CWMs were broader in natural forests than in plantations. This suggested that the different changes in NPP in response to changes in soil N between natural forests and plantations was due to the changes in leaf and root species traits via changing in species composition among sites. In conclusion, the present study showed that the changes in species specific traits in root growth and leaf N strongly affected the relationship between soil N availability and stand carbon and N dynamics.
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