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Keywords:

  • Acid grassland;
  • Climate;
  • Nitrogen deposition;
  • Ordination;
  • Soil biogeochemistry;
  • Variation partitioning;
  • Violion caninae

Abstract

Question: Which environmental variables affect floristic species composition of acid grasslands in the Atlantic biogeographic region of Europe along a gradient of atmospheric N deposition?

Location: Transect across the Atlantic biogeographic region of Europe including Ireland, Great Britain, Isle of Man, France, Belgium, The Netherlands, Germany, Norway, Denmark and Sweden.

Materials and Methods: In 153 acid grasslands we assessed plant and bryophyte species composition, soil chemistry (pH, base cations, metals, nitrate and ammonium concentrations, total C and N, and Olsen plant available phosphorus), climatic variables, N deposition and S deposition. Ordination and variation partitioning were used to determine the relative importance of different drivers on the species composition of the studied grasslands.

Results: Climate, soil and deposition variables explained 24% of the total variation in species composition. Variance partitioning showed that soil variables explained the most variation in the data set and that climate and geographic variables accounted for slightly less variation. Deposition variables (N and S deposition) explained 9.8% of the variation in the ordination. Species positively associated with N deposition included Holcus mollis and Leontodon hispidus. Species negatively associated with N deposition included Agrostis curtisii, Leontodon autumnalis, Campanula rotundifolia and Hylocomium splendens.

Conclusion: Although secondary to climate gradients and soil biogeochemistry, and not as strong as for species richness, the impact of N and S deposition on species composition can be detected in acid grasslands, influencing community composition both directly and indirectly, presumably through soil-mediated effects.