How plant diversity and legumes affect nitrogen dynamics in experimental grassland communities

Christa P H MulderKerstin Huss-Danell


Positive relationships between species richness and ecosystem processes such as productivity or nitrogen cycling can be the result of a number of mechanisms. We examined how species richness, biomass, and legume presence, diversity, and abundance explained nitrogen dynamics in experimental grassland plots in northern Sweden. Nitrogen concentrations and δ(15)N values were measured in plants grown in 28 mixtures (58 plots) including 1, 2, 4, 8 or 12 local grassland species over four years. Values for δ(15)N declined over time for all three functional groups (grasses, legumes, and non-leguminous forbs), suggesting greater reliance on N fixed by legumes over time by all species. Above ground percent nitrogen (%N) also declined over time but root %N and total N did not. Path analysis of above ground data suggested that two main factors affected %N and the size of the N pool. First, higher plant diversity (species richness) increased total N through increased biomass in the plot. Although in the first two years of the experiment this was the result of a greater probability of inclusion of at least one legume, in the last two years diversity had a significant effect on biomass beyond this effect. Second, percent legumes planted in the...Continue Reading


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