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The role of above-ground competition and nitrogen vs. phosphorus enrichment in seedling survival of common European plant species of semi-natural grasslands.

ABSTRACT: Anthropogenic activities have severely altered fluxes of nitrogen and phosphorus in ecosystems worldwide. In grasslands, subsequent negative effects are commonly attributed to competitive exclusion of plant species following increased above-ground biomass production. However, some studies have shown that this does not fully account for nutrient enrichment effects, questioning whether lowering competition by reducing grassland productivity through mowing or herbivory can mitigate the environmental impact of nutrient pollution. Furthermore, few studies so far discriminate between nitrogen and phosphorus pollution. We performed a full factorial experiment in greenhouse mesocosms combining nitrogen and phosphorus addition with two clipping regimes designed to relax above-ground competition. Next, we studied the survival and growth of seedlings of eight common European grassland species and found that five out of eight species showed higher survival under the clipping regime with the lowest above-ground competition. Phosphorus addition negatively affected seven plant species and nitrogen addition negatively affected four plant species. Importantly, the negative effects of nutrient addition and higher above-ground competition were independent of each other for all but one species. Our results suggest that at any given level of soil nutrients, relaxation of above-ground competition allows for higher seedling survival in grasslands. At the same time, even at low levels of above-ground competition, nutrient enrichment negatively affects survival as compared to nutrient-poor conditions. Therefore, although maintaining low above-ground competition appears essential for species' recruitment, for instance through mowing or herbivory, these management efforts are likely to be insufficient and we conclude that environmental policies aimed to reduce both excess nitrogen and particularly phosphorus inputs are also necessary.

PROVIDER: S-EPMC5363941 | BioStudies |

REPOSITORIES: biostudies

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