Changes in chalk-grassland structure and species richness resulting from selective nutrient additions


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Abstract. A series of fertilization experiments was carried out over a 5-yr period in a chalk grassland in Limburg (The Netherlands) as part of a study of the maintenance of species richness in species-rich grasslands. Phosphorus and nitrogen were shown to be the most limiting nutrients. Addition of both elements doubled above-ground production, and species richness dropped ca. 50 % in 0.01-m2 subplots, relative to controls. However, neither the above-ground production nor plant growth-forms were sufficient to explain the observed changes in species richness. Small-scale structural heterogeneity of the vegetation is probably critical for maintaining high levels of richness. Historically, high nitrogen, low phosphorus conditions were rarely encountered in the Dutch landscape and few species appear adapted to these conditions. Among the chalk grassland species, Brachypodiumpinnatum seems well adapted to these conditions, where it dominates and excludes most other species. A detailed understanding of the small-scale processes responsible for maintenance of species richness is critically important in efforts to maintain the biodiversity of natural ecosystems.