, Volume 234, Issue 2, pp 171-179

Nutrient limitation along a productivity gradient in wet meadows

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Abstract

Conservation management in meadows often focuses on reducing soil fertility and consequently community productivity as to promote and sustain species-rich vegetations. The productivity level to which nutrients are limiting growth is, however, unclear, as well as the relationship between productivity and the type of nutrient limitation. We carried out a fertilization experiment with N, P and K in six annually mown meadows along an aerial phytomass gradient (200–650 g m−2). All meadows were found to be growth-limited by nutrients. Low-productive meadows were N-limited, or N+P co-limited, whereas our higher productive meadows were co-limited by a combination of N, P and/or K. The results from our experiments were compared with the results from 45 other fertilization experiments with N, P and K in grasslands and wetlands (aerial phytomass range 50–1500 g m−2). Our results were consistent in nitrogen being the most frequent (co)-limiting nutrient, and regarding the equal frequence of occurrence of P (co)-limitation and K (co)-limitation (both in ca. 25–30% of all sites). Co-limitation occurred more often in our sites than in the other experiments. There was no clear relationship between aerial phytomass and type of nutrient limitation, except that K (co)-limitation only occurred at sites with phytomass above 200 g m−2, and P (co)-limitation below 600 g m−2. A comparison of productivity and nutrient concentrations in aerial phytomass among two years indicated that the type of nutrient limitation is not a static site characteristic but may vary with dynamic environmental conditions such as soil wetness; drought seems to enhance N-availability which may induce P- and K-limitation.