, Volume 74, Issue 2, pp 174–184 | Cite as

A comparative study on nutrient cycling in wet heathland ecosystems

I. Litter production and nutrient losses from the plant
  • F. Berendse
  • H. Oudhof
  • J. Bol
Original Papers


The term relative nutrient requirement is introduced in order to measure and to compare the nutrient losses from different perennial plant populations and the amount of nutrient that they need to absorb to compensate these losses. The relative nutrient requirement (L) is defined as the amount of the growth-limiting nutrient that must be taken up to maintain or replace each unit of biomass during a given time interval (e.g., mgN g-1 biomass year-1). It is derived that in a plant community with two competing perennial plant populations, species1 will become dominant if the relative competition coefficient k 12 (sensu De Wit 1960) exceeds the ratio between the relative nutrient requirements of the two species (L1/L2), whereas species 2 will become dominant, if k12 is below this critical ratio. The above-ground litter production was measured inwet heathland communities dominated by Erica tetralix or by Molinia caeruleain order to estimate N and P losses from theaboveground biomass and to calculate the relative N and P requirements of these species. Molinia lost during one year 63% and 34%, respectively, of the amount of N and P present in the above-ground biomass at the end of the growing season. These losses were in Erica 27% and 31%, respectively. The relative N requirements of the two species show the same difference: 7.5 and 2.6 mg N g-1 yr-1, respectively, in Molinia and in Erica. Also the relative P requirement of Molinia is higher as well as that of Erica (0.18 versus 0.08 mg P g-1 yr-1). The relative competition coefficient of Molinia with respect to Erica (k me ) is equal to unity under unfertilized conditions but increases with increasing nutrient supply. Under nutrient-poor conditions k me is below the critical ratio of the relative nutrient requirements of the two species (L m /L e =2.9 or 2.3), so that Erica will be the dominant species. After an increase in nutrient availability k me increases and exceeds this critical limit which results in Molinia replacing Erica. During the last 20 years this replacement of Erica-dominant communities by monocultures of Molinia has been observed in almost all wet heathlands in The Netherlands along with a strong increase in nitrogen availability.

Key words

Nutrient cycling Litter production Competition Relative nutrient requirement 


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 1987

Authors and Affiliations

  • F. Berendse
    • 1
  • H. Oudhof
    • 1
  • J. Bol
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Plant EcologyUniversity of UtrechtUtrechtThe Netherlands

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