Abstract. Nanocyperion plant communities occur on wet, more or less nutrient-poor and sparsely vegetated soils in temperate climates and are characterized by tiny, very shortlived plant species. Most of these have become locally extinct. It is generally assumed that drainage and eutrophication were the most important reasons for this decrease. However, chemical analysis of soil pore water from plots on growth sites of these ephemerals showed that phosphorus availability was relatively high.
In a greenhouse experiment, the growth of ephemeral species was strongly limited by the amount of available phosphorus, whereas there was little or no limitation to the growth of other plant species from this habitat. At low phosphorus concentrations, the ephemeral species reached their reproductive phase within the same period, but showed a strong reduction in the amount of flowers that were produced. We concluded that ephemeral species in particular require a minimum amount of phosphorus for reproduction. Other species on nutrient-poor, wet soils have a longer life span and can postpone flowering in nutrient-poor soils.
In contrast to other short-lived plant species from the same habitat, the growth of ephemeral species was barely stimulated by enhanced nitrogen availability. Apparently, the ephemerals are adapted to low nitrogen concentrations. The occurrence on nitrogen-poor and relatively phosphorus-rich soils suggests that this community may be very sensitive to nitrogen deposition. Reduced phosphorus availability below the minimum requirements of ephemerals, for example after acidification or the exclusion of human activities, has possibly contributed to the decrease of ephemeral plant species.