Physiological and Phenological Responses of Oak Seedlings to Oak Forest Soil in the Absence of Trees

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Oxford University Press

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Tree Physiology

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Established trees influence the growth and physiology of seedlings by altering above- and belowground conditions; however, tree influences on seedling physiology via belowground interactions are not well understood. We used soil transfers to an open field to examine the belowground influences of a Quercus ellipsoidalis E.J.Hill dominated forest on Q. ellipsoidalis seedling mycorrhizal infection, nutrient uptake, growth and photosynthesis over three years. After two years, seedlings planted with large quantities of forest soil (HF treatment) had greater leaf mass and foliar N concentrations than seedlings receiving smaller quantities of forest soil (LF) and control treatments. Mycorrhizal infection was greater in the HF treatment after one year compared with the LF and control treatments, with a positive correlation of foliar N and mycorrhizal infection in Year 2. There were marked effects of treatments on seedling spring phenology with HF seedlings breaking bud up to 17 days earlier than seedlings in the other treatments. The HF seedlings also had more rapid leaf expansion and larger leaves, and an increase in net photosynthetic rates. These results highlight complex linkages between above- and belowground physiology: forest soil had substantial effects on seedling physiology, including traits such as phenology that have previously been considered to be under aboveground control. Belowground influences of trees on conspecific seedlings may play a critical role in early seedling establishment.


Tree Physiology, Vol. 27, No. 1 (January 2007): 133-140. DOI.

Stefan A. Schnitzer was affiliated with University of Minnesota at the time of publication.