, Volume 163, Issue 2, pp 217-224

Characterisation of the type and extent of nutrient limitation in grassland vegetation using a bioassay with intact sods

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Abstract

An important methodological problem in plant ecology concerns the way in which the type and extent of nutrient limitation in terrestrial communities should be assessed. Conclusions on nutrient limitation have been founded mainly on soil extractions, fertiliser trials and tissue nutrient concentrations. In order to avoid some of the problems associated with these methods, we employed a special technique using intact sods which rooted both in the intact soil and in a nutrient solution, from which N, P and K were omitted stepwise. The method was applied to hay-field communities which differed in their history of fertiliser application. Four fields were compared which were not fertilised for 2, 6, 19 or 45 years, while hay making continued. This was done to restore former species-rich grassland communities. We tested the hypothesis that the increase in species diversity in these grasslands was attended by an increase in the number of limiting nutrients.

We observed clear shifts in the type and extent of nutrient limitation. Fields which were recently fertilised were characterised by nitrogen and potassium limitation, while phosphorus limitation increased in importance towards the later stages of succession. In the last field (45 years unfertilised) N, P and K equally limited production at the community level. These conclusions differed from those drawn from a fertiliser trial in these same four fields, which failed to detect phosphorus limitation.

It is concluded that the use of this method provides a valuable extra source of information while studying relationships between nutrient limitation and species diversity in grassland communities.