Decadal dynamics of dry alpine meadows under nitrogen and phosphorus additions

Abstract

Plants often exhibit positive responses to multiple nutrient additions, but generalities about the life form and traits of the most responsive species are few. Findings from long-term experiments in dry meadow alpine tundra in Colorado, USA, were used here to examine univariate and multivariate analyses of plant and plant trait responses. We found transient responses for community richness–biomass relationships, but a consistent increase in forb dominance in nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P) addition plots. The response seen in the N + P plots was not affected by additions of micronutrients or potassium. Multivariate analyses corroborate transient responses in community shifts over shorter-time scales, and directional shifts in N + P over two decades. Using species-level aboveground trait data when available, we found N + P may favor species with resource-acquisitive traits, regardless of their lifeform, as well as relatively tall grasses, regardless of their resource strategy. In the absence of N and P limitation but with the environmental constraints found in dry alpine meadows, plant richness and community structure continued to exhibit transient states for decadal time frames.

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Acknowledgements

Research at Niwot Ridge has been funded by NSF to the Long-Term Ecological Research Program, most recently by grant DEB 1637686. We thank Drs. William Bowman, Kacheng Niu, and Katharine Suding for reviewing earlier versions of this work, and the data publication of plant traits by Marko Spasojevic and Soren Weber greatly facilitated our effort. All data used in this study are archived at the Environmental Data Initiative (https://portal.edirepository.org/) under package numbers knb-lter-nwt.138, knb-lter-nwt.418, and knb-lter-nwt.500. We thank Sarah Elmendorf and Anna Wainright for their guidance and contribution in data archiving and several anonymous reviewers for suggesting improvements in the manuscript.

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Correspondence to T. R. Seastedt.

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Seastedt, T.R., White, C.T., Tucker, C. et al. Decadal dynamics of dry alpine meadows under nitrogen and phosphorus additions. Plant Ecol 221, 647–658 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11258-020-01039-8

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Keywords

  • Alpine
  • Community dynamics
  • Graminoids
  • Forbs
  • Nitrogen
  • Phosphorus