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Environmental and Experimental Botany


Gypsum-exclusive species (gypsophiles), are restricted to gypseous soils in natural environments. However, it is unclear why gypsophiles display greater affinity to gyspeous soils than other soils. These plants are edaphic endemics, growing in alkaline soils with high Ca and S. Gypsophiles tend to show higher foliar Ca and S, lower K and, sometimes, higher Mg than non-exclusive gypsum species, named gypsovags. Our aim was to test if the unique leaf elemental signature of gypsophiles could be the result of special nutritional requirements linked to their specificity to gypseous soils. These nutritional requirements could hamper the completion of their life cycle and growth in other soil types. To test this hypothesis, we cultivated five gypsophiles and five gypsovags dominant in Spanish gypsum outcrops on gypseous and calcareous (non-gypseous) field soil for 29 months. We regularly measured growth and phenology, and differences in leaf traits, final biomass, individual seed mass, seed viability, photosynthetic assimilation and leaf elemental composition. We found all the gypsophiles studied were able to complete their life cycle in non-gypseous soil, producing viable seeds, attaining greater biomass and displaying higher photosynthetic assimilation rates than in gypseous soil. The leaf elemental composition of some species (both gypsophiles and gypsovags) shifted depending on soil, although none of them showed leaf deficiency symptoms. Regardless of soil type, gypsophiles had higher leaf S, Mg, Fe, Al, Na, Mn, Cr and lower K than gypsovags. Consequently, gypsophiles have a unique leaf chemical signature compared to gypsovags of the same family, particularly due to their high leaf S regardless of soil conditions. However, these nutrient requirements are not sufficient to explain why gypsophiles are restricted to gypsum soil in natural conditions.

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