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Nutrient enrichment in calcareous fens: Effects on plant species and community structure

, : Nutrient enrichment in calcareous fens: Effects on plant species and community structure. Basic & Applied Ecology 3(3): 255-266

Calcareous fen meadows of low productivity belong to the most species-rich plant communities in central Europe. However, the deterioration of habitat quality by nutrient enrichment might threaten their high species diversity. To assess the potential impact of increased nutrient supply, we performed a two-year field experiment at 18 wetland sites in north-eastern Switzerland. We simulated atmospheric nitrogen deposition by adding a nitrogen fertilizer (N) and the influx of a combination of nutrients by adding a nutrient mixture (NPK), containing phosphorus and potassium as well as nitrogen. We recorded responses of the plant community, of four taxonomic-functional groups, and of transplanted individuals of a habitat specialist, Succisa pratensis, and a generalist, Filipendula ulmaria. The addition of nitrogen increased aboveground community biomass by 32% and full fertilization with NPK increased it by 70%; these effects were independent of the initial productivity at the sites. Neither total species richness nor the number of specialist species was significantly affected after two years of nutrient application. However, the number of generalist species increased after the addition of NPK. Changes in the abundance of the four taxonomic-functional groups and of single species suggested that species composition and richness would change over longer periods of eutrophication. S. pratensis produced less biomass, both above- and belowground, when fertilized; in the longer run, it will probably be edged out by competition. F. ulmaria, on the other hand, increased the ratio between shoot and root biomass, grew taller and could thus keep pace with neighbouring plants. These results demonstrate that both atmospheric nitrogen deposition and the influx of a mixture of nutrients can drastically change the characteristics of fen meadows. To maintain the typical species composition of these wetlands and their rare species, all influences resulting in eutrophication should be minimized.


DOI: 10.1078/1439-1791-00096

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