Increasing effects of chronic nutrient enrichment on plant diversity loss and ecosystem productivity over time

Eric W. Seabloom, Peter B. Adler, Juan Alberti, Lori Biederman, Yvonne M. Buckley, Marc W. Cadotte, Scott L. Collins, Laura Dee, Philip A. Fay, Jennifer Firn, Nicole Hagenah, W. Stanley Harpole, Yann Hautier, Andy Hector, Sarah E. Hobbie, Forest Isbell, Johannes M.H. Knops, Kimberly J. Komatsu, Ramesh Laungani, Andrew MacDougallRebecca L. McCulley, Joslin L. Moore, John W. Morgan, Timothy Ohlert, Suzanne M. Prober, Anita C. Risch, Martin Schuetz, Carly J. Stevens, Elizabeth T. Borer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

56 Scopus citations


Human activities are enriching many of Earth’s ecosystems with biologically limiting mineral nutrients such as nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P). In grasslands, this enrichment generally reduces plant diversity and increases productivity. The widely demonstrated positive effect of diversity on productivity suggests a potential negative feedback, whereby nutrient-induced declines in diversity reduce the initial gains in productivity arising from nutrient enrichment. In addition, plant productivity and diversity can be inhibited by accumulations of dead biomass, which may be altered by nutrient enrichment. Over longer time frames, nutrient addition may increase soil fertility by increasing soil organic matter and nutrient pools. We examined the effects of 5–11 yr of nutrient addition at 47 grasslands in 12 countries. Nutrient enrichment increased aboveground live biomass and reduced plant diversity at nearly all sites, and these effects became stronger over time. We did not find evidence that nutrient-induced losses of diversity reduced the positive effects of nutrients on biomass; however, nutrient effects on live biomass increased more slowly at sites where litter was also increasing, regardless of plant diversity. This work suggests that short-term experiments may underestimate the long-term nutrient enrichment effects on global grassland ecosystems.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere03218
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was generated using data from the Nutrient Network2 experiment, funded at the site scale by individual researchers. Coordination and data management have been supported by funding to E. Borer and E. Seabloom from the National Science Foundation Research Coordination Network (NSF-DEB-1042132) and Long Term Ecological Research (NSF-DEB-1234162 and DEB-1831944 to Cedar Creek LTER) programs, and the University of Minnesota?s Institute on the Environment (DG-0001-13). We also thank the Minnesota Supercomputer Institute for hosting project data and the Institute on the Environment for hosting Network meetings.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020 by the Ecological Society of America


  • NutNet
  • biodiversity
  • community ecology
  • ecosystem ecology, grasslands
  • nutrient network


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