Expansion of Sphagnum fallax in bogs: striking the ballance between N and P availability

J. Limpens, H.B.M. Tomassen, F. Berendse

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45 Citations (Scopus)


Nitrogen deposition may cause shifts in the Sphagnum species composition of bogs, ultimately affecting the conservation value of these systems. We studied the effects of N and P on the expansion of S. fallax and S. flexuosum in bogs. We related historical census data of S. fallax, S. flexuosum, and four of their accompanying species to changes in N deposition. In addition, we conducted two fertilization experiments with N and P; one at a low deposition site with S. flexuosum and one at two high deposition sites with S. fallax. Finally, we related existing data on capitulum N and P concentrations of S. fallax to its abundance in the field. A relative increase in observed frequency of S. fallax coincided with an historical increase in N deposition in the Netherlands. There was no indication that S. fallax consistently outcompeted one of the other five Sphagnum species, the observed frequency of the Sphagnum species analysed was rather stable with time. The census data on S. flexuosum did not indicate a response to N deposition, but the species expanded at the low N deposition site when extra N was applied. In contrast, the expansion of S. fallax at the high deposition sites was limited by P. Organic nutrient concentrations suggested that when S. fallax can maintain a capitulum N concentration of 7 mg g(-1) or higher and a P concentration of 0.7 mg g(-1) or higher the species can grow to dominate. We conclude that S. fallax will gradually colonize an increasing number of new habitats in areas with a low, albeit increasing, N deposition, but will only grow to dominate when P supply is adequate. Then, the expansion of S. fallax may lead to ousting of the other Sphagnum species present.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)83-90
JournalJournal of Bryology
Publication statusPublished - 2003


  • atmospheric co2
  • water level
  • deposition
  • competition
  • growth
  • vegetation
  • heterogeneity
  • decomposition
  • succession
  • bryophytes

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