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Ecology. 2011 Jul;92(7):1393-8.

Recovery of plant species richness during long-term fertilization of a species-rich grassland.

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  • 1Nature Conservation and Plant Ecology Group, Wageningen University and Research Centre, 6708 Wageningen, The Netherlands.


Nutrient enrichment of habitats (eutrophication) is considered to be one of the main causes of plant diversity decline worldwide. Several experiments have shown a rapid loss of species in the first years after fertilization started. However, little is known about changes in species richness in the long term. Here, we use a 50-year-old field experiment with a range of fertilization treatments in grasslands that were mown twice each year in the center of The Netherlands. We show that species richness in all plots initially declined but started to recover after approximately 25 years of continued fertilization. This was also true for the heavily fertilized treatment (NPK). In NPK-fertilized plots, the decline was strongest and associated with a strong divergence of plant trait composition from the control, reflecting a shift to a plant community adapted to nutrient-rich conditions. During the subsequent period of increase in species richness, the trait composition remained stable. These results show that plant species richness can, at least partially, recover after an initial diversity decline caused by fertilization.

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