- 1In plant communities, a better use of nitrogen for growth and access to additional nitrogen by N2 fixing legumes have been suggested as mechanisms that contribute to the positive relationship between species richness and above-ground biomass production. We studied above-ground biomass production, and plant and soil nitrogen in a biodiversity experiment using a pool of nine potentially dominant grassland species (five grasses: Alopecurus pratensis, Arrhenatherum elatius, Dactylis glomerata, Phleum pratense, Poa trivialis; two legumes: Trifolium pratense, T. repens; two non-legume herbs: Anthriscus sylvestris, Geranium pratense) in the second and third year after establishment.
- 2Total above-ground biomass and nitrogen pools increased with species richness in the second year. In the third year, the positive effect of species richness on above-ground biomass was less pronounced but still significant, while nitrogen pools did not increase with species richness. Above-ground nitrogen pools and biomass production were significantly lower in the third year.
- 3Above-ground nitrogen pools of mixtures were higher than expected from monocultures in 94% of cases and increased with the species richness of mixtures in the second year. In the third year, only 55% of the mixtures had higher nitrogen yields than expected. A significant increase in the amount of biomass produced per gram nitrogen, a decrease of soil nitrate pools and the inability of mixtures to use soil nitrate more completely than expected from monocultures indicated lower nitrogen availability in the third year. Complementary resource use was not solely dependent on the occurrence of N2 fixing legumes in mixtures, but also played a role in mixtures without legumes.
- 4Synthesis. Our study shows that biodiversity effects through complementary nitrogen use can occur among potentially dominant grassland species. The degree of resource partitioning depends on growing conditions, with stronger complementarity effects under nutrient-rich conditions.