, Volume 41, Issue 4, pp 393-401
Date: 16 Feb 2012

Evidence for Acidification-Driven Ecosystem Collapse of Danish Erica tetralix Wet Heathland

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We report observations of disappearance of Erica tetralix in wet heathland, which is unlikely to be caused by competition, as E. tetralix is dying before its place is taken up by other species. To investigate the causes, we used both old and new data. Results showed that presence of Molinia caerulea and Calluna vulgaris were substantial in the former E. tetralix dominated areas. Measurements of the C/N ratio in the morlayer were between 21 and 26 under the E. tetralix stands. As the expected C/N ratio in a healthy nutrient poor ecosystem like the E. tetralix wet heathland is around 30, this indicates that the ratio is probably decreasing and, correspondingly, the probability of nitrogen leaching from the ecosystem is increasing. The morlayer pH was extremely low—between 3.03 and 3.78. This represents a pH decline since the 1960s, where pH values generally were above 4. This supports the hypothesis that the decrease in morlayer pH is the major factor explaining the disappearance of E. tetralix and that measures to increase pH should be considered as part of the recommendations for relevant future management.