, Volume 144, Issue 2, pp 215–227 | Cite as

Measured estimates of semi-natural terrestrial NPP in Great Britain: comparison with modelled values, and dependence on atmospheric nitrogen deposition

  • Edward TippingEmail author
  • Jessica A. C. Davies
  • Peter A. Henrys
  • Susan G. Jarvis
  • Edwin C. Rowe
  • Simon M. Smart
  • Michael G. Le Duc
  • Robert H. Marrs
  • Robin J. Pakeman


Plant growth in nitrogen (N)-limited, unfertilised terrestrial ecosystems should respond to additional N inputs from atmospheric deposition (Ndep). We investigated this for sites in Great Britain (GB) by compiling 796 estimates of net primary productivity (NPP) from measured biomass production over the period 1932–2014, although the great majority were for 1990 onwards. The sites were largely vegetated with shrubs, grass and bracken, and had a wide range of Ndep (0.5–3.3 gN m−2 a−1 in 2000). The measured NPP estimates were compared with calculated values from the biogeochemical ecosystem model N14CP, which predicts that NPP depends strongly upon Ndep. The measured and modelled average total NPP values (gC m−2 a−1) from all data were 387 (standard deviation, SD = 193) and 377 (SD = 72) respectively. Measured and modelled averages for vegetation classes followed the sequence: broadleaved trees ~ needle-leaved trees > herbs (rough grassland + bracken) ~ shrubs. After averaging measured values for sites in individual model grid cells (5 km × 5 km) with 10 or more replicates, the measured and modelled NPP values were correlated (n = 26, r2 = 0.22, p = 0.011), with a slope close to unity. Significant linear relationships were found between measured ln NPP and cumulative Ndep for both herbs (n = 298, p = 0.021) and shrubs (n = 473, p = 0.006), with slopes comparable to those predicted with the model. The results suggest that semi-natural NPP in GB depends positively upon Ndep, in a manner that agrees quantitatively with N14CP predictions. Calculations with the model, using modelled temporal variation in Ndep, indicate that fertilisation by Ndep caused average increases in semi-natural NPP over the period 1800 to 2010 of 30% for shrubs, 71% for herbs, and 91% for broadleaved trees. Combined with previous published results for forests, our findings suggest a general and widespread vegetation response to fertilisation by Ndep.


Net primary production Nitrogen deposition Modelling Grass Bracken Shrubs Long-term change 



The research was funded by the UK Natural Environment Research Council Macronutrient Cycles Programme (Grant nos. NE/J011533/1, NE/J011703/1, NE/J011991/1). We are grateful to U. Dragosits, E.J. Carnell, A.J. Dore, S.J. Tomlinson and M.A. Sutton (Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, CEH Edinburgh) for providing modelled atmospheric nitrogen deposition data. We dedicate this paper to the memory of the late John Milne of the Macaulay Land Use Research (now James Hutton) Institute who pioneered large-scale measurements of plant production across GB and inspired several of the authorship team.

Supplementary material

10533_2019_582_MOESM1_ESM.docx (511 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 510 kb)
10533_2019_582_MOESM2_ESM.xlsx (120 kb)
Table S1. The data base. Supplementary material 2 (XLSX 119 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Edward Tipping
    • 1
    Email author
  • Jessica A. C. Davies
    • 2
  • Peter A. Henrys
    • 1
  • Susan G. Jarvis
    • 1
  • Edwin C. Rowe
    • 3
  • Simon M. Smart
    • 1
  • Michael G. Le Duc
    • 4
  • Robert H. Marrs
    • 4
  • Robin J. Pakeman
    • 5
  1. 1.Centre for Ecology and HydrologyLancaster Environment CentreLancasterUK
  2. 2.Lancaster Environment Centre, Pentland Centre for Sustainability in BusinessLancaster UniversityLancasterUK
  3. 3.Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, Environment Centre WalesBangorUK
  4. 4.School of Environmental SciencesUniversity of LiverpoolLiverpoolUK
  5. 5.The James Hutton InstituteAberdeenUK

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