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Keywords:

  • Antagonism;
  • co-limitation;
  • eutrophication;
  • interaction;
  • nitrogen;
  • nutrient loading;
  • phosphorus;
  • primary production;
  • synergy

Summary

1 Anthropogenic eutrophication is among the greatest threats to ecosystem functioning globally, often occurring via enrichment of both nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P). As such, recent attention has focused on the implications of non-additive responses to dual nutrient enrichment and the inherent difficulty associated with predicting their combined effects.

2 We used a simple metric to quantify the frequency and magnitude of non-additive responses to enrichment by N, P and N + P in 653 experiments conducted across multiple ecosystem types and locations.

3 Non-additive responses were found to be common in all systems. Freshwater ecosystems and temperate latitudes tended to have frequent synergistic responses to dual nutrient enrichment, i.e. the response was greater than predicted by an additive model. Terrestrial and arctic systems were dominated by antagonistic responses (responses to N + P that were less than additive).

4 The mean of all experiments was synergistic because despite being less common, synergistic responses were generally of greater magnitude than antagonistic ones.

5Synthesis and applications. Our study highlights the ubiquity of non-additive effects in response to dual nutrient enrichment and further elucidates the complex ways in which ecosystems respond to human impacts. Our results suggest how alternative nutrient limitation scenarios can be used to guide approaches to conservation and management of nutrient loading to ecosystems. This review provides the first published summary of non-additive responses by primary producers.