Legacy effects of nitrogen and phosphorus additions on vegetation and carbon stocks of upland heaths

José van Paassen*, Andrea J. Britton, Ruth J. Mitchell, Lorna E. Street, David Johnson, Andrew Coupar, Sarah J. Woodin

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Abstract

Soil carbon (C) pools and plant community composition are regulated by nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P) availability. Atmospheric N deposition impacts ecosystem C storage, but the direction of response varies between systems. Phosphorus limitation may constrain C storage response to N, hence P application to increase plant productivity and thus C sequestration has been suggested. We revisited a 23-yr-old field experiment where N and P had been applied to upland heath, a widespread habitat supporting large soil C stocks. At 10 yr after the last nutrient application we quantified long-term changes in vegetation composition and in soil and vegetation C and P stocks. Nitrogen addition, particularly when combined with P, strongly influenced vegetation composition, favouring grasses over Calluna vulgaris, and led to a reduction in vegetation C stocks. However, soil C stocks did not respond to nutrient treatments. We found 40% of the added P had accumulated in the soil. This study showed persistent effects of N and N + P on vegetation composition, whereas effects of P alone were small and showed recovery. We found no indication that P application could mitigate the effects of N on vegetation or increase C sequestration in this system.

Original languageEnglish
Number of pages12
JournalNew Phytologist
Early online date24 Jun 2020
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 24 Jun 2020

Keywords

  • long-term
  • nitrogen deposition
  • nutrient cycling
  • upland heath
  • soil
  • vegetation
  • long term
  • DEPOSITION INCREASES
  • NUTRIENT LIMITATION
  • VASCULAR PLANTS
  • RESPONSES
  • COMMUNITY STRUCTURE
  • MICROBIAL BIOMASS
  • SPHAGNUM
  • LITTER
  • LONG-TERM NITROGEN
  • ATMOSPHERIC NITROGEN

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Plant Science

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