Impacts of drought and nitrogen addition on Calluna heathlands differ with plant life-history stage

Publikation: Beiträge in ZeitschriftenZeitschriftenaufsätzeForschung


Climate change and atmospheric deposition of nitrogen (N) affect the biodiversity patterns and functions of ecosystems world-wide. While many single-factor studies have quantified ecosystem responses to single global change drivers, less is known about the interaction effects of these drivers on ecosystem functions. Here, we present the results of a three-year field and a two-year glasshouse experiment, in which we assessed responses of Calluna vulgaris heathlands to the single and combined effects of drought events (D) and N fertilization (D: 25% precipitation reduction in the field experiment and 20-50% soil water content reduction in the glasshouse experiment; N fertilization: 35 kg N ha<sup>-1 </sup>year<sup>-1</sup>). We examined the effects of D and N treatments on growth responses of the dominant dwarf shrub Calluna vulgaris (in terms of biomass production and allocation, tissue δ<sup>13</sup>C signatures and C:N ratios) in relation to two plant life-history stages and different 'ecotypes' (sub-Atlantic vs. subcontinental heathlands). Plant responses varied strongly with life-history stage, and the interaction of N and D showed lower effects than would be expected based on additive responses to single factors. While D treatments had no effects on Calluna in the building phase (ca. ten-year-old plants), seedlings (particularly one-year-old plants) were highly susceptible to drought. Differences in response patterns were attributable to the high shoot-root ratios typical of young Calluna plants. These ratios decreased with progressing life history as a result of increasing below-ground biomass investments. Below-ground biomass production and shoot-root ratios differed between plants from the different heathland sites. Tissue δ<sup>13</sup>C signatures decreased and C:N ratios increased with plant age as a result of decreasing evaporative demands (per unit root biomass). N fertilization increases the shoot-root ratios and thereby the drought susceptibility of Calluna plants. Synthesis. Our findings suggest that plant responses to global change are difficult to anticipate by means of single-factor studies or by focusing on a single life-history stage. This highlights the need for global change research to include multiple factors and life-history stages when assessing an ecosystem's susceptibility to shifts in environmental conditions.

ZeitschriftJournal of Ecology
Seiten (von - bis)1141-1152
Anzahl der Seiten12
PublikationsstatusErschienen - 09.2015