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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 articlepeer-review

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
<mark>Original language</mark>English


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.