Shifts in N and P Budgets of Heathland Ecosystems: Effects of Management and Atmospheric Inputs

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In the present study we analyzed the combined effects of management (grazing, mowing, prescribed burning, sod-cutting) and atmospheric deposition on N and P budgets of heathland ecosystems (Lüneburger Heide nature reserve; N Germany). We hypothesize that management measures such as grazing and mowing can accelerate a deposition-induced imbalance of N and P pools as a result of a disproportionally high output of P. We analyzed management and deposition affected input-output flows of N and P and related them to changes in the nutritional status of Calluna vulgaris 5 years after treatment application. We found that grazing and mowing caused the highest net loss of P due to high P concentrations in the aboveground biomass. In contrast, prescribed burning only slightly affected P pools, as P remained in the system due to ash deposition. Management-mediated effects on N and P pools were mirrored in the nutritional status of Calluna vulgaris: at the grazed and mown sites, the P content of current season's shoots significantly decreased within 5 years after treatments, whereas the N content remained unchanged. We conclude that grazing and mowing can accelerate declining availability of P and, thus, accelerate a deposition-induced shift from N- to P-limited plant growth in the medium term. In the face of ongoing atmospheric N loads management schemes need to combine high- and low-intensity measures to maintain both a diverse structure and balanced nutrient budgets in the long term. © 2009 Springer Science+Business Media, LLC.
Original languageEnglish
Issue number2
Pages (from-to)298-310
Number of pages13
Publication statusPublished - 02.2009