Strong mixture effects among four species in fertilized agricultural grassland led to persistent and consistent transgressive overyielding
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- 1Increasing plant species richness often increases biomass production in nutrient-poor semi-natural grasslands. If such positive diversity–productivity effects also apply to nutrient-rich agricultural grasslands, mixtures could improve resource-use efficiency in the vast area used for forage production. We therefore quantified the diversity–productivity effects in nutrient-rich agricultural grasslands using four-species grass–legume mixtures.
- 2The sown overall density and species proportions of Lolium perenne, Dactylis glomerata, Trifolium pratense and Trifolium repens were varied in a 3-year field experiment to investigate the effects of species richness (1, 2, 4 species) and species proportion (0, 3, 10, 25, 40, 50, 70, 90, 100% sowing proportion) on productivity under a nitrogen fertilization of 50, 150 or 450 kg N ha−1 year−1.
- 3The four-species mixtures reached up to twice the yield of the average of the four species’ monocultures (overyielding up to 106%), predominantly due to combining grass and legume species. Mixtures were up to 57% more productive than the most productive monoculture (transgressive overyielding). Both these diversity–productivity effects appeared across a broad range of species proportions and persisted at the two lower levels of N fertilization for 3 years.
- 4Mixtures fertilized with 50 kg N ha−1 year−1 produced yields comparable to grass monocultures fertilized with 450 kg N ha−1 year−1, if the legume proportion was about 50 to 70%. Diversity–productivity effects were reduced at the highest level of N fertilization, where they virtually disappeared in the third year. Increased N fertilization also accelerated the observed general trend towards D. glomerata dominated and legume-poor swards.
- 5Synthesis and applications. Diversity–productivity effects led to consistent transgressive overyielding in intensively managed grasslands, suggesting a highly increased resource-use efficiency in mixtures. Performance better than monocultures can be achieved with grass–legume mixtures that have a low number of species, across a wide range of species proportions and in nutrient-rich conditions. Processes such as niche complementarity and positive interspecific interactions leading to diversity effects proved to be highly relevant and widely applicable for intensive forage production. Such diversity–productivity effects could allow reduced inputs of N fertilizer without loss of productivity in different grassland production systems.