, Volume 12, Issue 7, pp 1130-1144

First online:

Removing Phosphorus from Ecosystems Through Nitrogen Fertilization and Cutting with Removal of Biomass

  • Michael P. PerringAffiliated withDivision of Biology, Imperial College LondonSchool of Plant Science, University of Tasmania Email author 
  • , Grant EdwardsAffiliated withAgriculture and Life Sciences Division, Field Services Centre, Lincoln University
  • , Claire de MazancourtAffiliated withRedpath Museum, McGill University

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High amounts of phosphorus (P) are in soil of former farmland due to previous fertilizer additions. Draining these residues would provide conditions for grassland plant species diversity restoration amongst other ecosystem benefits. Nitrogen (N) fertilization followed by cutting with subsequent removal of biomass has been suggested as a P residue removal method. We present a general model of N and P ecosystem cycling with nutrients coupled in plant biomass. We incorporate major P pools and biological and physico-chemical fluxes around the system together with transfers into and out of the system given several decades of management. We investigate conditions where N addition and cutting accelerate fertilizer P draining. Cutting does not generally accelerate soil P depletion under short-term management because the benefits of biomass removal through decreased P mineralization occur on too long a timescale compared to cutting’s impact on the ability of plants to deplete nutrients. Short-term N fertilization lowers soil fertilizer P residues, provided plant growth remains N limited. In such situations, N fertilization without biomass removal increases soil organic P. Some scenarios show significant reductions in available P following N addition, but many situations record only marginal decreases in problematic soil P pools compared to the unfertilized state. We provide explicit conditions open to experimental testing. Cutting might have minimal adverse impacts, but will take time to be successful. N fertilization either alone or in combination with cutting is more likely to bring about desired reductions in P availability thus allowing grassland restoration, but might have undesired ecosystem consequences.

Key words

biodiversity ecosystem modelling grassland restoration nutrient stoichiometry cycling feedbacks mineralization input–output budget