Elemental Patterns in Ni Hyperaccumulating and Non-Hyperaccumulating Ultramafic Soil Populations of Senecio coronatus

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Biological Sciences


Biological, Environmental, and Earth Sciences


Nickel hyperaccumulation can defend plants against herbivores and pathogens. However, variability in plant tissue elemental concentrations in space and time will influence the effectiveness of this defense. We investigated a South African Ni hyperaccumulator, Senecio coronatus Thunb. (Harv.), for variation in nine elements (Ni plus Ca, Cu, Fe, K, Mg, Mn, P and Zn) between populations and between above-ground and below-ground plant organs (leaves, roots). Plant material was collected from four populations growing on ultramafic soils in the vicinity of Badplaas, Mpumalanga Province, South Africa. Concentrations of Ca, Cu, Fe, K, Mg, Mn, Ni, P and Zn were determined in dry-ashed samples. Two-way analysis of variance of data for each element revealed considerable variation in S. coronatus plant chemistry. Leaf concentrations of all elements except Cu were generally greater than root concentrations. Population-level variation was found for Ca, Fe, Mn, P, Ni and Zn, and of these all but P showed significant two-way interactions as well. Significant positive correlations were found between some pairs of elements: in hyperaccumulator roots (Ni–Ca, K–Mg), non-hyperaccumulator roots (Fe–Mn, Fe–Zn, Fe–Cu, Cu–Zn), hyperaccumulator leaves (P–Mg, P–Fe, P–Mn, Fe–Mg) and non-hyperaccumulator leaves (P–Mn, P–Ca, Ca–Mn). Two populations hyperaccumulated Ni in leaves (means of 12,000 and 8800 μg Ni/g) whereas the others did not (means of 120 and 130 μg Ni/g). Such extreme population-level variation in Ni accumulation ability is unusual among Ni hyperaccumulator species: its physiological basis and possible consequences for plant elemental defense deserve further investigation.

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South African Journal of Botany





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