Grassland ecosystem recovery after soil disturbance depends on nutrient supply rate

Research output: Contribution to journalLetterpeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Human disturbances alter the functioning and biodiversity of many ecosystems. These ecosystems may return to their pre-disturbance state after disturbance ceases; however, humans have altered the environment in ways that may change the rate or direction of this recovery. For example, human activities have increased supplies of biologically limiting nutrients, such as nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P), which can reduce grassland diversity and increase productivity. We tracked the recovery of a grassland for two decades following an intensive agricultural disturbance under ambient and elevated nutrient conditions. Productivity returned to pre-disturbance levels quickly under ambient nutrient conditions, but nutrient addition slowed this recovery. In contrast, the effects of disturbance on diversity remained hidden for 15 years, at which point diversity began to increase in unfertilised plots. This work demonstrates that enrichment of terrestrial ecosystems by humans may alter the recovery of ecosystems and that disturbance effects may remain hidden for many years.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1756-1765
Number of pages10
JournalEcology letters
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 2020

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The authors thank T. Mielke, A. Asmus, and the Cedar Creek staff. This work was supported by grants from the US National Science Foundation Long-Term Ecological Research Program (LTER) including DEB-1234162 and DEB-1831944. Support also was provided by the Cedar Creek Ecosystem Science Reserve, the Minnesota Supercomputer Institute, and the University of Minnesota.


  • Biodiversity
  • community ecology
  • ecosystems
  • grasslands
  • recovery
  • succession

PubMed: MeSH publication types

  • Letter

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