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European semiarid Mediterranean ecosystems are sensitive to nitrogen deposition: impacts on plant communities and root phosphatase activity

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal article

Article number5
<mark>Journal publication date</mark>1/02/2015
<mark>Journal</mark>Water, Air, and Soil Pollution
Issue number2
Number of pages13
Publication statusPublished
Original languageEnglish


Nitrogen (N) deposition is predicted to impact on the structure and functioning of Mediterranean ecosystems. In this study, we measured plant species composition, production and root phosphatase activity in a field experiment in which N (0, 10, 20 and 50 kg N ha(-1) year(-1)) was added since October 2007 to a semiarid shrubland in central Spain. The characteristically dominant annual forb element responded negatively to N after similar to 2.5 and similar to 3.5 years. In contrast, the nitrophilous element (mainly crucifers) increased with N after similar to 2.5 and similar to 5.5 years, a response controlled by between-year variations in rainfall and the heterogeneous distribution of P availability. We also described a hierarchy of factors driving the structure and composition of the plant community: soil fertility was the most important driver, whereas calcareousness/acidity of soils and shrub cover played a secondary role; finally, N deposition contributed to explain a smaller fraction of the total variance, and its effects were predominantly negative, which was attributed to ammonium toxicity. Root phosphatase activity of three species was not responsive to N after similar to 2.5 years but there was a negative relationship with soil P in two of them. We conclude that increased N deposition in semiarid Mediterranean ecosystems of Europe can contribute to cause a shift in plant communities associated with an increase in the nitrophilous element and with a decline in abundance of various forb species adapted to the local conditions.