Christopher R. Taylor, Luke C. England, J. Ben Keane, Jessica A. C. Davies, Jonathan R. Leake, Iain P. Hartley, Simon M. Smart, Victoria Janes‐Bassett, Gareth K. Phoenix

Elevated CO2 interacts with nutrient inputs to restructure plant communities in phosphorus‐limited grasslands

  • General Environmental Science
  • Ecology
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Global and Planetary Change

AbstractGlobally pervasive increases in atmospheric CO2 and nitrogen (N) deposition could have substantial effects on plant communities, either directly or mediated by their interactions with soil nutrient limitation. While the direct consequences of N enrichment on plant communities are well documented, potential interactions with rising CO2 and globally widespread phosphorus (P) limitation remain poorly understood. We investigated the consequences of simultaneous elevated CO2 (eCO2) and N and P additions on grassland biodiversity, community and functional composition in P‐limited grasslands. We exposed soil‐turf monoliths from limestone and acidic grasslands that have received >25 years of N additions (3.5 and 14 g m−2 year−1) and 11 (limestone) or 25 (acidic) years of P additions (3.5 g m−2 year−1) to eCO2 (600 ppm) for 3 years. Across both grasslands, eCO2, N and P additions significantly changed community composition. Limestone communities were more responsive to eCO2 and saw significant functional shifts resulting from eCO2–nutrient interactions. Here, legume cover tripled in response to combined eCO2 and P additions, and combined eCO2 and N treatments shifted functional dominance from grasses to sedges. We suggest that eCO2 may disproportionately benefit P acquisition by sedges by subsidising the carbon cost of locally intense root exudation at the expense of co‐occurring grasses. In contrast, the functional composition of the acidic grassland was insensitive to eCO2 and its interactions with nutrient additions. Greater diversity of P‐acquisition strategies in the limestone grassland, combined with a more functionally even and diverse community, may contribute to the stronger responses compared to the acidic grassland. Our work suggests we may see large changes in the composition and biodiversity of P‐limited grasslands in response to eCO2 and its interactions with nutrient loading, particularly where these contain a high diversity of P‐acquisition strategies or developmentally young soils with sufficient bioavailable mineral P.

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