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Environ Pollut. 1995;88(2):193-205.

Deposition of fixed atmospheric nitrogen and foliar nitrogen content of bryophytes and Calluna vulgaris (L.) Hull.

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Institute of Terrestrial Ecology, Bush Estate, Penicuik, Midlothian, UK, EH26 OQB.


Atmospheric deposition of fixed nitrogen as nitrate and ammonium in rain and by dry deposition of nitrogen dioxide, nitric acid and ammonia has increased throughout Europe during the last two decades, from 2-6 kg N ha(-1) year(-1) to 15-60 kg N ha(-1) year(-1). The nitrogen contents of bryophytes and the ericaceous shrub Calluna vulgaris have been measured at a range of sites, with the objective of showing the degree to which nitrogen deposition is reflected in foliar plant nitrogen. Tissue nitrogen concentrations of herbarium bryophyte samples and current samples of the same species collected from the same sites were compared. No significant change in tissue nitrogen was recorded at a remote site in north-west Scotland where nitrogen inputs are small (< 6 kg N ha(-1) year(-1)). Significant increases in tissue N occurred at four sites ranging from 38% in central Scotland to 63% in Cumbria where nitrogen inputs range from 15 to 30 kg N ha(-1) year(-1). The relationships found between the estimated input of atmospheric nitrogen and the tissue nitrogen content of the selected bryophytes and Calluna at the sites investigated were found to be generally linear and fitted the form N(tissue) = 0.62 + 0.022 N(dep) for bryophytes and N(tissue) = 0.83 + 0.045 N(dep) for Calluna. There was thus an increase in total tissue nitrogen of 0.02 mg g(-1) dry weight for bryophytes and 0.045 mg g(-1) dry weight for Calluna for an increase in atmospheric nitrogen deposition of 1 kg ha(-1) year(-1). The lowest concentrations were found in north-west Scotland and the highest in Cumbria and the Breckland heaths of East Anglia, both areas of high atmospheric nitrogen deposition (30-40 kg N ha(-1) year(-1)). The implications of increased tissue nitrogen content in terms of vegetation change are discussed. Changes in atmospheric nitrogen deposition with time were also examined using measured values and values inferred from tissue nitrogen content of mosses. The rate of increase in nitrogen deposition is not linear over the 90-year period, and the increases were negligible over the period 1880-1915. However, during the period 1950 to 1990 the data suggest an increase in nitrogen deposition of 2 kg N ha(-1) every 10 years.

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