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Phosphorus and nitrogen co-limitation of forest ground vegetation under elevated anthropogenic nitrogen deposition
- Hedwall, Per-Ola, Bergh, Johan, Brunet, Jörg
- Oecologia 2017 v.185 no.2 pp. 317-326
- plant growth, vascular plants, nitrogen, phosphorus, ground vegetation, trees, species diversity, forest ecosystems, Bryophyta, nutrients, stand basal area, forests, Sweden
- Plant growth in northern forest ecosystems is considered to be primarily nitrogen limited. Nitrogen deposition is predicted to change this towards co-limitation/limitation by other nutrients (e.g., phosphorus), although evidence of such stoichiometric effects is scarce. We utilized two forest fertilization experiments in southern Sweden to analyze single and combined effects of nitrogen and phosphorus on the productivity, composition, and diversity of the ground vegetation. Our results indicate that the productivity of forest ground vegetation in southern Sweden is co-limited by nitrogen and phosphorus. Additionally, the combined effect of nitrogen and phosphorus on the productivity was larger than when applied solely. No effects on species richness of any of these two nutrients were observed when applied separately, while applied in combination, they increased species richness and changed species composition, mainly by promoting more mesotrophic species. All these effects, however, occurred only for the vascular plants and not for bryophytes. The tree layer in a forest has a profound impact on the productivity and diversity of the ground vegetation by competing for both light and nutrients. This was confirmed in our study where a combination of nitrogen and high tree basal area reduced cover of the ground vegetation compared to all the other treatments where basal area was lower after stand thinning. During the past decades, nitrogen deposition may have further increased this competition from the trees for phosphorus and gradually reduced ground vegetation diversity. Phosphorus limitation induced by nitrogen deposition may, thus, contribute to ongoing changes in forest ground vegetation.