Legacy effects of nitrogen and phosphorus additions on vegetation and carbon stocks of upland heaths

José G. van Paassen, Andrea J. Britton, Ruth J. Mitchell, Lorna Street, David Johnson, Andrew Coupar, Sarah J. Woodin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

Soil carbon (C) pools and plant community composition are regulated by nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P) availability. Atmospheric N deposition impacts ecosystem C storage, but the direction of response varies between systems. Phosphorus limitation may constrain C storage response to N, hence P application to increase plant productivity and thus C sequestration has been suggested.
We revisited a 23‐yr‐old field experiment where N and P had been applied to upland heath, a widespread habitat supporting large soil C stocks. At 10 yr after the last nutrient application we quantified long‐term changes in vegetation composition and in soil and vegetation C and P stocks.
Nitrogen addition, particularly when combined with P, strongly influenced vegetation composition, favouring grasses over Calluna vulgaris, and led to a reduction in vegetation C stocks. However, soil C stocks did not respond to nutrient treatments. We found 40% of the added P had accumulated in the soil.
This study showed persistent effects of N and N + P on vegetation composition, whereas effects of P alone were small and showed recovery. We found no indication that P application could mitigate the effects of N on vegetation or increase C sequestration in this system.
Original languageEnglish
JournalNew Phytologist
Publication statusPublished - 24 Jun 2020


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