Niche differentiation of plant species along a N:P gradient in Eurasian grasslands

Ineke Roeling, W.A. Ozinga, Jerry van Dijk, M.B. Eppinga, M.J. Wassen

Research output: Contribution to conferenceAbstract


Nutrient availability is one of the key drivers of plant species diversity and species composition in grasslands. Over the past decades, eutrophication has caused many nutrient-poor areas to become enriched, leading to a loss of species diversity as fast-growing species outcompete others for light.
However, eutrophication can also cause a change in the relative availability of essential resources, i.e. the nutrients nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P) and potassium (K). Earlier research has shown that especially the relative availability of N and P (expressed as the N:P ratio), is important for species richness, independent of productivity. In addition, at high N:P ratio’s – indicative of P-limitation – more endangered species are found. Outcomes of field experiments suggest that the N:P ratio also influences species composition.
We analysed a large field database containing the N:P ratios of c. 600 moist grassland plots across eight Eurasian countries, which gave us the unique possibility to validate the outcomes of earlier field experiments. Together, the plots contained c. 600 species and covered a large range of N:P ratios (3 – 53).
Our results show distinct species composition patterns along the N:P ratio gradient and indicate that the N:P ratio is probably an important driver, likely as important as other drivers such as soil moisture, soil pH and productivity. Species also differed in their niche position and width along the N:P gradient, suggesting a trade-off between adaptation for (extreme) nutrient limitation and niche width, as species with optima at (extreme) nutrient limitation had smaller niches than species with optima at intermediate N:P ratios.
It is likely that the absolute and relative changes in nutrient availability act simultaneously on species richness and composition. Conservation efforts aimed at counteracting (the effects of) eutrophication should therefore also consider the relative nutrient availability.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 2016
EventAnnual meeting of British Ecological Society (BES) - Liverpool, United Kingdom
Duration: 11 Dec 201614 Dec 2016


ConferenceAnnual meeting of British Ecological Society (BES)
CountryUnited Kingdom

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