Reliability of Ellenberg indicator values for moisture, nitrogen and soil reaction: a comparison with field measurements


  • Nomenclature: van der Meijden (1996) for vascular plants; Margadant & During (1982) for bryophytes; Sýkora et al. (1993), Schaminée et al. (1995, 1996) and Stortelder et al. 1999) for syntaxa.


Abstract. Ellenberg indicator values for moisture, nitrogen and soil reaction were correlated with measured soil and vegetation parameters. Relationships were studied through between-species and between-site comparisons, using data from 74 roadside plots in 14 different plant communities in The Netherlands forming a wide range.

Ellenberg moisture values correlated best with the average lowest moisture contents in summer. Correlations with the annual average groundwater level and the average spring level were also good. Ellenberg N-values appeared to be only weakly correlated with soil parameters, including N-mineralization and available mineral N. Instead, there was a strong relation with biomass production. We therefore endorse Hill & Carey's (1997) suggestion that the term N-values be replaced by ‘productivity values'. For soil reaction, many species values appeared to need regional adjustment. The relationship with soil pH was unsatisfactory; mean indicator values were similar for all sites at pH > 4.75 because of wide species tolerances for intermediate pH levels. Site mean reaction values correlated best (r up to 0.92) with the total amount of calcium (exchangeable Ca2+ plus Ca from carbonates). It is therefore suggested that reaction values are better referred to as ‘calcium values'.

Using abundance values as weights when calculating mean indicator values generally improved the results, but, over the wide range of conditions studied, differences were small. Indicator values for bryophytes appeared well in line with those for vascular plants. It was noted that the frequency distributions of indicator values are quite uneven. This creates a tendency for site mean values to converge to the value most common in the regional species pool. Although the effect on overall correlations is small, relationships tended to be less linear. Uneven distributions also cause the site mean indicator values at which species have their optimum to deviate from the actual Ellenberg values of these species. Suggestions for improvements are made.

It is concluded that the Ellenberg indicator system provides a very valuable tool for habitat calibration, provided the appropriate parameters are considered.