Tissue nutrient signatures predict herbaceous-wetland community responses to nutrient availability


Author for correspondence: N.J. Willby Tel: +1 1786 466 542 Fax: +1 1786 467 843 Email: n.j.willby@stir.ac.uk


  • • An extensive survey of European wetlands was undertaken to compare the importance of growing conditions vs functional characteristics of vegetation in determining N, P and K contents.
  • • Stress-tolerator dominated stands (S) had consistently lower nutrient contents and higher N : P ratios whereas ruderal-dominated (R) stands displayed the opposite pattern. Competitor (C) and competitor-stress tolerator (CS) stands were intermediate to R and S.
  • • These patterns were mostly preserved after removing covariation between vegetation and environment, thus indicating constitutional differences in nutrient signatures between functionally differentiated vegetation. C and R stands were least likely to be nutrient limited. Half of the S stands were probably P-limited but C, CS and R stands rarely or never experienced P limitation. Inferred colimitation by K was twice as frequent in S stands compared with other vegetation.
  • • This study extends the evidence for syndromes of traits closely linked to nutrient use efficiency that increase fitness under particular growing conditions. It also highlights patterns at a community level across a wide range of wetland types and suggests that tissue nutrient signatures will have diagnostic value in predicting community responses to perturbation in nutrient availability.