• nitrogen deposition;
  • phosphomonoesterase;
  • nutrient cycling;
  • organic phosphorus;
  • ammonium

A field and laboratory based bioassay has been developed to investigate the effects of the quantity and duration of simulated pollutant nitrogen (N) deposition on root-surface phosphomonoesterase (PME) activities in calcareous and acid grasslands. Seedlings of Plantago lanceolata were transplanted to a calcareous grassland and Agrostis capillaris seedlings were grown in microcosms containing soil from an acid grassland that had received either 7 yr (long-term) N additions or 18 months (short-term) N and phosphorus (P) additions. The bioassay revealed that short-term N treatments had little effect on the enzyme activity, whereas long-term N additions significantly increased PME activity within 7 d of transplanting into the field plots. Root-surface PME activity of A. capillaris was significantly reduced in soil that received additions of P. In the plots receiving long-term additions of N, a strong relationship was observed between extractable soil ammonium and root-surface PME activity. Soil ammonium concentrations accounted for 67% of the variation in PME activity of P. lanceolata in the calcareous grassland, and 86% of the variation in PME activity of A. capillaris in the acid grassland. These results provide evidence that N deposition may have considerable effects on the demand and turnover of P in ecosystems that are approaching or have reached N saturation.