Plant Ecology

, Volume 215, Issue 8, pp 899–910 | Cite as

Effects of enhanced nitrogen inputs and climate warming on a forest understorey plant assessed by transplant experiments along a latitudinal gradient

  • Sybryn L. MaesEmail author
  • Pieter De FrenneEmail author
  • Jörg Brunet
  • Eduardo de la Peña
  • Olivier Chabrerie
  • Sara A. O. Cousins
  • Guillaume Decocq
  • Martin Diekmann
  • Robert Gruwez
  • Martin Hermy
  • Annette Kolb
  • Kris Verheyen


Global warming and enhanced nitrogen (N) inputs are two key global-change drivers affecting temperate forest ecosystems simultaneously. Interactive effects of multiple drivers might cause species responses to differ from those in single-factor experiments; therefore, there is an urgent need for more multi-factor studies. Here, we assessed the growth and reproductive performance of multiple populations of a widespread grass of deciduous forests (Milium effusum) sampled along a latitudinal gradient and subjected to experimental manipulations of temperature and nitrogen availability. Common garden transplant experiments along the latitudinal gradient were used to manipulate temperatures and combined with experimental N addition to assess intraspecific responses of the study species to global-change drivers as well as to determine local adaptation. The total biomass, number of seeds and seedling emergence time of M. effusum increased when transplanted in the southern common garden. Apart from effects on the seed mass, the species did not respond to N addition alone. Yet, interactive effects between warming and N addition were found: N addition led to increased biomass growth but only in the northern common garden. Significant home-site advantages were apparent, most likely because of increased mycorrhizal colonization of roots of local transplants. We show that multiple global-change drivers may alter dynamics in understorey communities of temperate forests. Our study reinforces the need to increase our understanding of plant responses to future environmental changes by expanding the multi-factor research framework.


Climate change Common garden experiment Forest understorey Latitude Local adaptation Mycorrhiza Nitrogen deposition Deciduous forest 



We thank the Research Foundation—Flanders (FWO) for funding the scientific research network FLEUR ( Support for this work was provided by the Kempe Foundation, Petra and Karl Erik Hedborg Foundation, an EU Transnational Access Program ATANS Grant (Fp6 506004), FWO post-doctoral fellowships (to PDF and EDLP) and the Special Research Fund of Ghent University (to RG). We are also grateful to Anna Shevtsova, Bente Graae, Thilo Heinken, Sharon Stanton, An De Schrijver, Luc Willems, Greet De bruyn, Rob Dhondt, Emma Holmström and Eva Sorgeloos and the staff at the Abisko Scientific Research Station for discussions, accommodation, facilities and assistance with the field work.

Supplementary material

11258_2014_341_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (28 kb)
Table S1. Temperature data in the two common gardens (PDF 28 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Sybryn L. Maes
    • 1
    Email author
  • Pieter De Frenne
    • 1
    Email author
  • Jörg Brunet
    • 2
  • Eduardo de la Peña
    • 1
    • 3
  • Olivier Chabrerie
    • 4
  • Sara A. O. Cousins
    • 5
  • Guillaume Decocq
    • 4
  • Martin Diekmann
    • 6
  • Robert Gruwez
    • 1
  • Martin Hermy
    • 7
  • Annette Kolb
    • 6
  • Kris Verheyen
    • 1
  1. 1.Forest & Nature LabGhent UniversityMelle-GontrodeBelgium
  2. 2.Southern Swedish Forest Research CentreSwedish University of Agricultural SciencesAlnarpSweden
  3. 3.Terrestrial Ecology Unit, Department of BiologyGhent UniversityGhentBelgium
  4. 4.Edysan (FRE 3498), Centre National de la Recherche ScientifiqueUniversité de Picardie Jules VerneAmiens cedexFrance
  5. 5.Department of Physical Geography and Quaternary GeologyStockholm UniversityStockholmSweden
  6. 6.Vegetation Ecology and Conservation Biology, Institute of Ecology, FB2University of BremenBremenGermany
  7. 7.Division Forest, Nature and LandscapeK.U.LeuvenLouvainBelgium

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