Nutrient limitation and plant species composition in temperate salt marshes
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Addition of inorganic nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium in a factorial design in two ungrazed Wadden-Sea salt marshes at low and high elevations showed that nitrogen was the limiting nutrient. No effects of nutrient addition were detected in the 1st year, probably due to a considerable rainfall deficit during the growing season. In the 2nd year, which was more humid, only nitrogen addition caused significant effects in both the low salt marsh dominated by Puccinellia maritima and the high marsh dominated by Festuca rubra. No two-way or three-way interactions with phosphorus or potassium were found. In the low marsh, nitrogen addition had a negative effect on the biomass of Puccinellia, but a positive effect on the biomass of Suaeda maritima and on the total above-ground biomass. Puccinellia was replaced by Suaeda after nitrogen addition, due to shading. In the high salt marsh, no significant effects of fertilizer application on total above-ground biomass were found, due to the weak response of the dominant species Festuca rubra, which accounted for 95% of total biomass. The biomass of Spergularia maritima increased, however, as a response to nitrogen addition.The shoot length of Festuca was positively affected by nitrogen fertilization. It is suggested that stands of Festuca reached maximal biomass at the study site without fertilization and that its growth was probably limited by self-shading.
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