Skip to main content Accessibility help

Nitrogen and Light Affect the Adaptive Traits of Common Lambsquarters (Chenopodium album)

  • Kris J. Mahoney (a1) and Clarence J. Swanton (a1)


Weeds are often portrayed as growing in resource-rich environments. However, weeds growing within crops often deal with variable nitrogen (N) availability and reduced levels of light quantity and quality as a result of the crop canopy. In order to explore how weeds adapt to such stressful growing conditions, growth-cabinet studies were conducted using common lambsquarters as a model weed to determine how light, defined in terms of photosynthetic photon flux density (PPFD) and quality (red to far-red light ratio [R/FR]), and N stress influence the expression of adaptive traits that contribute to survival. Development rate of common lambsquarters was not influenced by low N; however, low N in addition to low R/FR delayed the rate of leaf appearance. Main-stem leaf number was reduced by low PPFD but was insensitive to N and R/FR. Neither doses of N had any influence on the shoot-to-root ratio. Plants also responded to the interaction of light and N. Under low PPFD and high N, plants adapted by growing taller, increasing biomass allocation to leaves, and producing more leaf area per mol of accumulated incident PPFD. Plants adapted to the most stressful treatment combination of low PPFD and low N by producing thinner leaves and increasing inflorescences per mol of accumulated incident PPFD. Seed production was reduced under low PPFD, but 1,000-seed weight and carbon concentration was unaffected. Although reduced in number, the total N concentration of the seed increased under low PPFD treatments, especially under low N. The adaptive traits identified in this study provide a greater understanding of the survival and persistence of common lambsquarters.


Corresponding author

Corresponding author's E-mail:


Hide All
Aphalo, P. J. and Lehto, T. 1997. Effects of light quality on growth and N accumulation in birch seedlings. Tree Physiol. 17:125132.
Baker, H. G. 1974. The evolution of weeds. Annu. Rev. Ecol. Syst. 5:124.
Ballaré, C. L., Sánchez, R. A., Scopel, A. L., Casal, J. J., and Ghersa, C. M. 1987. Early detection of neighbour plants by phytochrome perception of spectral changes in reflected sunlight. Plant Cell Environ. 10:551557.
Baruch, Z. and Goldstein, G. 1999. Leaf construction cost, nutrient concentration and net CO2 assimilation of native and invasive species in Hawaii. Oecologia. 121:183192.
Begna, S. H., Dwyer, L. M., Cloutier, D., Assemat, L., DiTommaso, A., Zhou, X., Prithiviraj, B., and Smith, D. L. 2002. Decoupling of light intensity effects on the growth and development of C3 and C4 weed species through sucrose supplementation. J. Exp. Bot. 53:19351940.
Bertero, H. D. 2001. Effects of photoperiod, temperature and radiation on the rate of leaf appearance in quinoa (Chenopodium quinoa Willd.) under field conditions. Ann. Bot. 71:495502.
Booth, B. D., Murphy, S. D., and Swanton, C. J. 2004. Invasive ecology of weeds in agricultural systems. in Inderjit, ed. Weed Biology and Management. Dordrecht, Netherlands: Kluwer Academic. 2945.
Booth, B. D. and Swanton, C. J. 2002. Assembly theory applied to weed communities. Weed Sci. 50:213.
Bowley, S. R. 1999. Regression in ANOVA. in. A Hitchhikers Guide to Statistics in Plant Biology. 1st ed. Guelph, ON, Canada Plants et al. 8990.
Brainard, D. C., Bellinder, R. R., and DiTommaso, A. 2005. Effects of canopy shade on the morphology, phenology, and seed characteristics of Powell amaranth (Amaranthus powellii). Weed Sci. 53:175186.
Callahan, H. S. and Pigliucci, M. 2002. Shade-induced plasticity and its ecological significance in wild populations of Arabidopsis thaliana . Ecology. 83:19651980.
Causin, H. F. 2004. Responses to shading in Chenopodium album: the effect of the maternal environment and the N source supplied. Can. J. Bot. 82:13711381.
Causin, H. F. and Wulff, R. D. 2003. Changes in the responses to light quality during ontogeny in Chenopodium album . Can. J. Bot. 81:152163.
Child, R., Morgan, D. C., and Smith, H. 1981. Control of development in Chenopodium album L. by shadelight: the effect of light quality (red:far-red ratio) on morphogenesis. New Phytol. 89:545555.
Colquhoun, J., Boerboom, C. M., Binning, L. K., Stoltenburg, D. E., and Norman, J. M. 2001. Common lambsquarters photosynthesis and seed production in three environments. Weed Sci. 49:334339.
Dharmakeerthi, R. S., Kay, B. D., and Beauchamp, E. G. 2004. Effect of disturbance on N availability across a variable landscape in southern Ontario. Soil Tillage Res. 79:101112.
Dharmakeerthi, R. S., Kay, B. D., and Beauchamp, E. G. 2005. Factors contributing to changes in plant available N across a variable landscape. Soil Sci. Soc. Am. J. 69:453462.
Dharmakeerthi, R. S., Kay, B. D., and Beauchamp, E. G. 2006. Spatial variability of in-season nitrogen uptake by corn across a variable landscape as affected by management. Agron. J. 98:255264.
Elena, S. F. and de Visser, J. A. G. M. 2003. Environmental stress and the effects of mutation. J. Biol. 2:12.
Fawcett, R. S. and Slife, F. W. 1978. Effects of field applications of nitrate on weed seed germination and dormancy. Weed Sci. 26:594596.
Gedroc, J. J., McConnaughay, K. D. M., and Coleman, J. S. 1996. Plasticity in root/shoot partitioning: optimal, ontogenetic, or both? Funct. Ecol. 10:4450.
Ghorbani, R., Scheepens, P. C., Zweerde, W. V. D., Leifert, C., McDonald, A. J. S., and Seel, W. 2002. Effects of nitrogen availability and spore concentration on the biocontrol activity of Ascochyta caulina in common lambsquarters (Chenopodium album). Weed Sci. 50:628633.
Grime, J. P. 1974. Vegetation classification by reference to strategies. Nature. 250:2631.
Grime, J. P. 1977. Evidence for the existence of three primary strategies in plants and its relevance to ecological and evolutionary theory. Am. Nat. 111:11691194.
Gupta, A. P. and Lewontin, R. C. 1982. A study of reaction norms in natural populations of Drosophila psuedoobscura . Evolution. 36:934948.
Harbur, M. M. and Owen, M. D. K. 2004. Light and growth rate effects on crop and weed responses to nitrogen. Weed Sci. 52:578583.
He, J. S., Flynn, D. F. B., Wolfe-Bellin, K., Fang, J., and Bazzaz, F. A. 2005. CO2 and nitrogen, but not population density, alter the size and C/N ratio of Phytolacca americana seeds. Funct. Ecol. 19:437444.
Hikosaka, K. 2004. Interspecific difference in the photosynthesis–nitrogen relationship: patterns, physiological causes, and ecological importance. J. Plant Res. 117:481494.
Hikosaka, K., Hanba, Y. T., Hirose, T., and Terashima, I. 1998. Photosynthetic nitrogen-use efficiency in leaves of woody and herbaceous species. Funct. Ecol. 12:896905.
Hikosaka, K. and Terashima, I. 1996. Nitrogen partitioning among photosynthetic components and its consequence in sun and shade plants. Funct. Ecol. 10:335343.
Holmes, M. G. and Smith, H. 1975. The function of phytochrome in the natural environment. Nature. 254:512514.
Holmes, M. G. and Smith, H. 1977. The function of phytochrome in the natural environment. IV. Light quality and plant development. Photochem. Photobiol. 25:551557.
Huang, J. Z., Shrestha, A., Tollenaar, M., Deen, W., Rahimian, H., and Swanton, C. J. 2001. Effect of temperature and photoperiod on the phenological development of common lambsquarters. Weed Sci. 49:500508.
Hughes, J. E., Heathcote, L., Bambridge, K., and Black, C. R. 1984. A growth cabinet providing variable spectral photon distribution at high fluence rates. New Phytol. 98:211219.
Kato, M. C., Hikosaka, K., and Hirose, T. 2002. Photoinactivation and recovery of photosystem II in Chenopodium album leaves grown at different levels of irradiance and nitrogen availability. Funct. Plant Biol. 29:787795.
Khattak, A. M., Pearson, S., and Johnson, C. B. 1999. The effect of spectral filters and nitrogen dose on the growth of chrysanthemum (Chrysanthemum morifolium Ramat., cv. Snowdon). J. Hort. Sci. Biotechnol. 74:206212.
Leishman, M. R., Sanbrooke, K. J., and Woodfin, R. M. 1999. The effects of elevated CO2 and light environment on growth and reproductive performance of four annual species. New Phytol. 144:455462.
Lemaire, G. and Millard, P. 1999. An ecophysiological approach to modelling resource fluxes in competing plants. J. Exp. Bot. 50:1528.
Mahoney, K. J. 2006. Influence of Light Quality on Common Lambsquarters Adaptive Strategies. . Guelph, ON, Canada University of Guelph. 160.
McConnaughay, K. D. M. and Coleman, J. S. 1998. Can plants track changes in nutrient availability via changes in biomass partitioning? Plant Soil. 202:201209.
McConnaughay, K. D. M. and Coleman, J. S. 1999. Biomass allocation in plants: ontogeny or optimality? A test along three resource gradients. Ecology. 80:25812593.
McCullough, D. E., Girardin, P., Mihajlovic, M., Aguilera, A., and Tollenaar, M. 1994. Influence of N supply on development and dry matter accumulation of an old and a new maize hybrid. Can. J. Plant Sci. 74:471477.
McLachlan, S. M., Tollenaar, M., Swanton, C. J., and Weise, S. F. 1993. Effect of corn-induced shading on dry matter accumulation, distribution, and architecture of redroot pigweed (Amaranthus retroflexus L). Weed Sci. 41:568573.
Mercer, K. L., Jordan, N. R., Wyse, D. L., and Shaw, R. G. 2002. Multivariate differentiation of quackgrass (Elytrigia repens) from three farming systems. Weed Sci. 50:677685.
Morgan, D. C. and Smith, H. 1976. Linear relationship between phytochrome photoequilibrium and growth in plants under simulated natural radiation. Nature. 262:210212.
Morgan, D. C. and Smith, H. 1978. The relationship between phytochrome photoequilibrium and development in light grown Chenopodium album L. Planta. 142:187193.
Morgan, D. C. and Smith, H. 1979. A systematic relationship between phytochrome-controlled development and species habitat, for plants grown in simulated natural radiation. Planta. 145:253258.
Morgan, D. C. and Smith, H. 1981. Control of development in Chenopodium album L. by shadelight: the effect of light quality (total fluence rate) and light quality (red:far-red ratio). New Phytol. 88:239248.
Mulugeta, D. and Stoltenberg, D. E. 1998. Influence of cohorts on Chenopodium album demography. Weed Sci. 46:6570.
Nicotra, A. B. and Rodenhouse, N. L. 1995. Intraspecific competition in Chenopodium album varies with resource availability. Am. Midl. Nat. 134:9098.
Oguchi, R., Hikosaka, K., and Hirose, T. 2003. Does the photosynthetic light-acclimation need change in leaf anatomy? Plant Cell Environ. 26:505512.
Osone, Y. and Tateno, M. 2005. Applicability and limitations of optimal biomass allocation models: a test of two species from fertile and infertile habitats. Ann. Bot. 95:12111220.
Poorter, H. and Nagel, O. 2000. The role of biomass allocation in the growth response of plants to different levels of light CO2, nutrients and water: a quantitative review. Aust. J. Plant Physiol. 27:595607.
Rajcan, I., Alikhani, M. A., Swanton, C. J., and Tollenaar, M. 2002. Development of redroot pigweed is influenced by light spectral quality and quantity. Crop Sci. 42:19301936.
Röhrig, M. and Stützel, H. 2001. Dry matter production and partitioning of Chenopodium album in contrasting competitive environments. Weed Res. 41:129142.
Sage, R. F. and Pearcy, R. W. 1987a. The nitrogen use efficiency of C3 and C4 plants. I. Leaf nitrogen, growth, and biomass partitioning in Chenopodium album (L.) and Amaranthus retroflexus (L). Plant Physiol. 84:954958.
Sage, R. F. and Pearcy, R. W. 1987b. The nitrogen use efficiency of C3 and C4 plants. III. Leaf nitrogen effects on the activity of carboxylating enzymes in Chenopodium album (L.) and Amaranthus retroflexus (L). Plant Physiol. 84:355359.
Saini, H. S., Bassi, P. K., and Spencer, M. S. 1985. Seed germination in Chenopodium album L. : further evidence for the dependence of the effects of growth regulators on nitrate availability. Plant Cell Environ. 8:707711.
Scharf, P. C., Kitchen, N. R., Sudduth, K. A., Davis, J. G., Hubbard, V. C., and Lory, J. A. 2005. Field-scale variability in optimal nitrogen fertilizer rate for corn. Agron. J. 97:452461.
Schmitt, J., Stinchcombe, J. R., Heschel, M. S., and Huber, H. 2003. The adaptive evolution of plasticity: phytochrome-mediated shade avoidance responses. Integr. Comp. Biol. 43:459469.
Shahandeh, H., Wright, A. L., Hons, F. M., and Lascano, R. J. 2005. Spatial and temporal variation of soil nitrogen parameters related to soil texture and corn yield. Agron. J. 97:772782.
Smith, H. and Whitelam, G. C. 1997. The shade avoidance syndrome: multiple responses mediated by multiple phytochromes. Plant Cell Environ. 30:840844.
Steel, R. G. D., Torrie, J. H., and Dickey, D. A. 1997. Principles and Procedures of Statistics: A Biometrical Approach. 3rd ed. Boston McGraw-Hill. 666.
Stoller, E. W. and Myers, R. A. 1989. Response of soybeans (Glycine max) and four broadleaf weeds to reduced irradiance. Weed Sci. 37:570574.
Tilman, D. 1986. Nitrogen-limited growth in plants from different successional stages. Ecology. 67:555563.
Williams, J. T. 1963. Chenopodium album L. J. Ecol. 51:711725.
Wulff, R. D., Causin, H. F., Benitez, O., and Bacalini, P. A. 1999. Intraspecific variability and maternal effects the response to nutrient addition in Chenopodium album . Can. J. Bot. 77:11501158.
Yano, S. and Terashima, I. 2001. Separate localization of light signal perception for sun and shade type chloroplast and palisade tissue differentiation in Chenopodium album . Plant Cell Physiol. 42:13031310.
Yano, S. and Terashima, I. 2004. Developmental process of sun and shade leaves in Chenopodium album L. Plant Cell Environ. 27:781793.



Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed