Plant Ecology

, Volume 216, Issue 2, pp 307–318 | Cite as

Functional trait expression of grassland species shift with short- and long-term nutrient additions

  • Kimberly J. La PierreEmail author
  • Melinda D. Smith


Humans are altering nutrient availability worldwide, likely affecting plant trait expression, with consequences for community composition and ecosystem function. Here, we examined the responses of plant species dominant under ambient nutrient conditions (baseline species) versus those that become dominant under increased nutrient conditions (enriched species) in a tallgrass prairie ecosystem. The expression of 8 functional traits was quantified for 3 baseline and 3 enriched species within one short-term and one long-term nutrient addition experiment. We found that enriched species occupied a trait space characterized by traits that generally correspond with faster growth rates than baseline species. Additionally, the enriched species shifted in their trait expression relative to the control more than the baseline species with nutrient additions, particularly within the long-term experiment. The trait space shifts of individual species with nutrient additions scaled up to affect community aggregate trait values within both experiments. However, traits that responded to nutrient additions at the community level were not strong predictors of aboveground net primary productivity (ANPP) within the short-term experiment. In contrast, in the long-term experiment, one response trait (community aggregate height) strongly correlated with variation in ANPP with nutrient additions. The link between plant functional traits and community and ecosystem responses to chronic nutrient additions shown here will provide important insight into key mechanisms driving grassland responses to global change.


Baseline species Effect trait Enriched species Nutrient addition Response trait Tallgrass prairie 



The authors are grateful for field and lab help from M. Avolio, D. Blumenthal, C. Chang, S. Koerner, A. Kuhl, B. La Pierre, J. Nippert, A. Potter, R. Ramundo, and K. Wilcox. The Post and Vasseur labs, as well as two anonymous reviewers, provided helpful feedback on earlier manuscript drafts. Funding was provided by a Yale Institute for Biospheric Studies Center for Field Ecology Pilot Grant to K. La Pierre, a grant from the Lee Pierce Fund to K. La Pierre, and the Konza LTER. This work was generated using data from a site within the Nutrient Network collaborative experiment, funded at the site-scale by individual researchers and coordinated through Research Coordination Network funding from NSF to E. Borer and E. Seabloom (NSF-DEB-1042132). Nitrogen fertilizer was donated by Crop Production Services, Loveland, CO. K. La Pierre was supported by an NSF Graduate Research Fellowship.

Supplementary material

11258_2014_438_MOESM1_ESM.doc (92 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOC 92 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Ecology and Evolutionary BiologyYale UniversityNew HavenUSA
  2. 2.Department of Biology, Graduate Degree Program in EcologyColorado State UniversityFort CollinsUSA
  3. 3.Department of Integrative BiologyUniversity of CaliforniaBerkeleyUSA

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