Effects of nitrogen fertilizer on the composition of two prairie plant communities

Abstract

In recent decades, nitrogenous compounds, arising from various anthropogenic sources, have become significant components of precipitation and have been shown to have some profound effects on both species richness and dominance of some plant communities. To examine how nitrogen addition can affect the species composition of Central Great Plains prairie plant communities, we applied N fertilizer at five levels for each of five consecutive years at two sites in south-central Kansas with similar rainfall and temperature regimes. One site was a tallgrass prairie and the other was a sand prairie community. The treatments consisted of N additions at the rate of 0, 5, 10, 20, and 40 g N/m2 in the form of solid urea. Within permanent plots, we monitored annually species richness and evenness, and percentage cover by cool-season graminoids, N-fixing species, and annual/biennial species. All these measures varied considerably among years at both sites, but N treatment effects were evident at the sand prairie site only. At the sand prairie, in general species richness and percentage cover by legumes declined with N addition. Moreover, species were excluded non-randomly from N addition plots, with several species apparently particularly intolerant of N addition. The results reinforce a relationship, observed in Europe and the northern Great Plains, between N addition and plant biodiversity decline in grassland communities, and may point to a serious conservation concern for rare species under a chronic regime of N-enhanced precipitation.

Abbreviations

NPP:

Net primary productivity

References

  1. Aerts, R. and F. Berendse. 1988. The effect of increased nutrient availability on vegetation dynamics in wet heathlands. Vegetatio 76:63–69.

    Google Scholar 

  2. Aerts, R., F. Berendse, H. de Caluwe and M. Schmitz. 1990. Competition in heathland along an experimental gradient of nutrient availability. Oikos 57:310–318.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  3. Albritton, D. L., R. G. Derwent, I. S. A. Isaksen, M. Lal and D. J. Wuebbles. 1995. Trace gas radiative forcing indices. In: J. T. Houghton, L. G. Meira Filho, J. Bruce, H. Lee, B. A. Callander, E. Haites, N. Harris and K. Maskell (eds.), Climate Change 1994: Radiative Forcing of Climate Change. Cambridge Univ. Press, Cambridge, pp. 209–231.

    Google Scholar 

  4. Anderson, M. et al. 1998. International Classification of ecOlogical Communities: Terrestrial Vegetation of the United States. Vol. II. The National Vegetation Classification System: List of Types. The Nature Conservancy, Arlington, VA.

    Google Scholar 

  5. Bobbink, R., M. Hornung and J. G. M. Roelofs. 1998. The effects of air-borne nitrogen pollutants on species diversity in natural and semi-natural European vegetation. J. Ecol. 86:717–738.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  6. Burke, M. J. W. and J. P. Grime. 1996. An experimental study of plant community invasibility. Ecology 77:776–790.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  7. Christie, E. K. and J. K. Detling. 1982. Analysis of interference between C3 and C4 grasses in relation to temperature and soil nitrogen supply. Ecology 63:1277–1284.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  8. Daubenmire, R. 1959. A canopy-coverage method of vegetational analysis. Northwest Sci. 33:43–64.

    Google Scholar 

  9. Di Tommaso, A. and L. W. Aarssen. 1989. Resource manipulations in natural vegetation: A review. Vegetatio 84:9–29.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  10. Galloway, J. N., W. H. Schlesinger, H. Levy II, A. Michaels and J. L. Schnoor. 1995. Nitrogen fixation: Anthropogenic enhancement-environmental response. Global Biogeochemical Cycles 9:235–252.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  11. Gough, L., C. W. Osenberg, K. L. Gross and S. L. Collins. 2000. Fertilization effects on species density and primary productivity in herbaceous plant communities. Oikos 89:429–439.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  12. Great Plains Flora Association. 1986. Flora of the Great Plains. Univ. Kansas Press, Lawrence.

    Google Scholar 

  13. Huberty, L. E., K. L. Gross and C. J. Miller. 1998. Effects of nitrogen addition on successional dynamics and species diversity in Michigan old-fields. J. Ecol. 86:794–803.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  14. Inouye, R. S. and D. Tilman. 1995. Convergence and divergence of old-field vegetation after 11 yr of nitrogen addition. Ecology 76:1872–1887.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  15. Jefferies, R. L. and J. L. Maron. 1997. The embarrassment of riches: atmospheric deposition of nitrogen and community and ecosystem processes. Trends Ecol. Evol. 12:74–77.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  16. Knops, J.M. H., D. Tilman, N. M. Haddad, S. Naeem,C. E.Mitchell, J. Haarstad, M. E Ritchies, K. M. Howe, P. B. Reich, E. Siemann and J. Groth. 1999. Effects of plant species richness on invasion dynamics, disease outbreaks, insect abundances and diversity. Ecology Letters 2:286–293.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  17. Peters, R. L. and T. E. Lovejoy. 1994. Global Warming and Biological Diversity. Yale Univ. Press, New Haven, CT.

    Google Scholar 

  18. Piper, J. K. 1995 Composition of prairie plant communities on productive versus unproductive sites in wet and dry years. Can. J. Bot. 73:1635–1644.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  19. Platt, D. R. 1974. Vascular plants of the Sand Prairie Natural History Reservation, Harvey County, Kansas. Transactions of the Kansas Academy of Science 76:51–73.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  20. Pratt, Jr., C. R. 1984. The response of Solidago graminifolia and S. juncea to nitrogen fertilizer application: changes in biomass allocation and implications for community structure. Bulletin of the Torrey Botanical Club 111:469–478.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  21. Reich, P. B. Reich, P. B., D. Tilman, J. Craine, D. Ellsworth, M. G. Tjoelker, J. Knops, D. Wedin, S. Naeem, D. Bahauddin, J. Goth, W. Bengtson and T. D. Lee. 2001. Do species and functional groups differ in acquisition and use of C, N and water under varying CO2 and N availability regimes? A field test with 16 grassland species. New Phytologist 150:435–448.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  22. SPSS, Inc. 2002. SYSTAT 10.2. Chicago, IL.

    Google Scholar 

  23. Tamm, C. O. 1991. Nitrogen in Terrestrial Ecosystems: Questions of Productivity, Vegetational Changes, and Ecosystem Stability. Ecological Studies 81. Springer-Verlag, Berlin, Germany.

  24. Tilman, D. 1987. Secondary succession and the pattern of plant dominance along experimental nitrogen gradients. Ecol. Monographs 57:189–214.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  25. Tilman, D. 1993. Species richness of experimental productivity gradients: how important is colonization limitation? Ecology 74:2179–2191.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  26. Tilman, D. 1996. Biodiversity: population versus ecosystem stability. Ecology 77:350–363.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  27. Tilman, D., and J. A. Downing. 1994. Biodiversity and stability in grasslands. Nature 367:363–365.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  28. Tilman, D., D. Wedin and J. Knops. 1996. Productivity and sustainability influenced by biodiversity in grassland ecosystems. Nature 379:718–720.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  29. Turner, C. L. and A. K. Knapp. 1996. Responses of a C3 grass and three C3 forbs to variation in nitrogen and light in a tallgrass prairie. Ecology 77:1738–1749.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  30. Vitousek, P. M., J. D. Aber, R. W. Howarth, G. E. Likens, P. A. Matson, D. W. Schindler, W. H. Schlesinger and D. G. Tilman. 1997. Human alteration of the global nitrogen cycle: sources and consequences. Ecol. Applications 7:737–750.

    Google Scholar 

  31. Vitousek, P. M. and R. W. Howarth. 1991. Nitrogen limitation on land and in the sea: how can it occur? Biogeochemistry 13:87–115.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  32. Wedin, D. A. and D. Tilman. 1992. Nitrogen cycling, plant competition and the stability of tallgrass prairie. In: D. D. Smith and C. A. Jacobs (eds.), Proceedings of the 12th North American Prairie Conference. Univ. Northern Iowa Press, Cedar Falls, pp. 5–8.

    Google Scholar 

  33. Wedin, D. A. and D. Tilman. 1996. Influence of nitrogen loading and species composition on the carbon balance of grasslands. Science 274:1720–1723.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  34. Wright, R. F. and N. van Breeman. 1995. The NITREX project: An introduction. Forest Ecology and Management 71:1–6.

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to J. K. Piper.

Rights and permissions

This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made.

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Piper, J.K., Billings, D.N. & Leite, V.J. Effects of nitrogen fertilizer on the composition of two prairie plant communities. COMMUNITY ECOLOGY 6, 93–100 (2005). https://doi.org/10.1556/ComEc.6.2005.1.10

Download citation

Keyword

  • Diversity
  • Nitrogen
  • Plant species composition
  • Sand prairie
  • Tallgrass prairie