Legacy effects of nitrogen deposition on plant nutrient stoichiometry in a temperate grassland

  • Yan-Yu Hu
  • Seeta Sistla
  • Hai-Wei Wei
  • Zhi-Wei Zhang
  • Shuang-Li Hou
  • Jun-Jie Yang
  • Zheng-Wen Wang
  • Jun-Feng Wang
  • Xiao-Tao LüEmail author
Regular Article



Nitrogen (N) deposition has negative consequences for plant communities and ecosystem functioning. Nitrogen deposition is declining or is projected to decline in many regions due to the reduction of N-compound emissions. It remains unknown whether the cessation of N deposition will have legacy effects on plant nutrient stoichiometry. If there are stoichiometric legacy effects at the community-level from prior N enrichment, the contribution of changes in community composition relative to the stoichiometric responses of individual functional groups in driving these changes is unknown.


We measured plant N:P ratio at both functional group level and community level in a temperate steppe in three consecutive years following cessation of a 7-year N addition experiment with a wide-range of total amount added N in which the total amount of N added ranged from 0 to 350 g m−2.


The total amount of N addition was positively correlated with tall rhizomatous grass productivity and negatively correlated with tall bunchgrass productivity. Plant N:P ratios at both functional group and community levels did not change across N addition gradient. Community composition shifts contributed less than intra-group variation to the total variation of community level nutrient status in response to historic N addition.


Our results indicated that biological N:P imbalance in response to N deposition can be rapidly ameliorated after the cessation of N deposition. Such legacy effects of N deposition on plant nutrient status are largely driven by the changes of nutrient status of individual plants instead of N-induced shifts in community composition.


Community composition Ecological stoichiometry Ecosystem recovery Intra-specific variation Nitrogen recovery N:P ratio Plant functional traits 







Intra-group trait variation


Tall rhizome grass


Tall bunchgrass


Short bunchgrass




Community weighted mean trait value



We thank the Inner Mongolia Grassland Ecosystem Research Station for logistical support. We appreciate the constructive comments from two anonymous reviewers. This work was supported by Key Research Program from CAS (QYZDB-SSW-DQC006), National Natural Science Foundation of China (31822006 and 31770503), National Key Research and Development Program of China (2016YFC0500601), Strategic Priority Research Program of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (XDA23070103), Youth Innovation Promotion Association CAS (2014174), Doctoral Scientific Research Foundation of Liaoning (20170520179), Liaoning Revitalizing Talents Program (XLYC1807061), Shenyang Science and Technology Bureau (18-013-0-04 and RC180320), and Key Laboratory of Vegetation Ecology, Ministry of Education. Authors declare no conflict of interests.

Supplementary material

11104_2019_4357_MOESM1_ESM.doc (6.2 mb)
ESM 1 (DOC 6318 kb)


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© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Erguna Forest-Steppe Ecotone Research Station, CAS Key Laboratory of Forest Ecology and Management, Institute of Applied EcologyChinese Academy of SciencesShenyangChina
  2. 2.University of Chinese Academy of SciencesBeijingChina
  3. 3.Natural Resources Management & Environmental SciencesCalifornia Polytechnic State UniversitySan Luis ObispoUSA
  4. 4.State Key Laboratory of Vegetation of Environmental Change, Institute of BotanyChinese Academy of SciencesBeijingChina
  5. 5.Key Laboratory of Vegetation Ecology, Ministry of Education, Institute of Grassland ScienceNortheast Normal UniversityJilinChina

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