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Vegetation change and homogenization of species composition in temperate nutrient deficient Scots pine forests after 45 yr

Authors


Abstract

Question

Does eutrophication drive vegetation change in pine forests on nutrient deficient sites and thus lead to the homogenization of understorey species composition?

Location

Forest area (1600 ha) in the Lower Spreewald, Brandenburg, Germany.

Methods

Resurvey of 77 semi-permanent plots after 45 yr, including vascular plants, bryophytes and ground lichens. We applied multidimensional ordination of species composition, dissimilarity indices, mean Ellenberg indicator values and the concept of winner/loser species to identify vegetation change between years. Differential responses along a gradient of nutrient availability were analysed on the basis of initial vegetation type, reflecting topsoil N availability of plots.

Results

Species composition changed strongly and overall shifted towards higher N and slightly lower light availability. Differences in vegetation change were related to initial vegetation type, with strongest compositional changes in the oligotrophic forest type, but strongest increase of nitrophilous species in the mesotrophic forest type. Despite an overall increase in species number, species composition was homogenized between study years due to the loss of species (mainly ground lichens) on the most oligotrophic sites.

Conclusions

The response to N enrichment is confounded by canopy closure on the N-richest sites and probably by water limitation on N-poorest sites. The relative importance of atmospheric N deposition in the eutrophication effect is difficult to disentangle from natural humus accumulation after historical litter raking. However, the profound differences in species composition between study years across all forest types suggest that atmospheric N deposition contributes to the eutrophication, which drives understorey vegetation change and biotic homogenization in Central European Scots pine forests on nutrient deficient sites.

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