Pennings, S. C., C. M. Clark, E. E. Cleland, S. L. Collins, L. Gough, K. L. Gross, D. G. Milchunas, and K. N. Suding. 2005. Do individual plant species show predictable responses to nitrogen addition across multiple experiments? Oikos 110:547-555.

Citable PDF link: https://lter.kbs.msu.edu/pub/2434

A number of experiments have addressed how increases in nitrogen availability increase the productivity and decrease the diversity of plant communities. We lack, however, a rigorous mechanistic understanding of how changes in abundance of particular species combine to produce changes in community productivity and diversity. Single experiments cannot provide insight into this issue because each species occurs only once per experiment, and each experiment is conducted in only one location; thus, it is impossible from single experiments to determine whether responses of particular species are consistent across environments or dependent on the particular environmental context in which the experiment was conducted. To address this issue, we assembled a dataset of 20 herbaceous species that were each represented in at least 6 different fertilization experiments and tested whether responses were general across experiments. Of the 20 species, one consistently increased in relative abundance and five consistently decreased across replicate experiments. A partially-overlapping group of 8 species displayed responses to nitrogen that varied predictably among experiments as a function of geographic location, neighboring species, or a handful of other community characteristics (ANPP, precipitation, species richness, relative abundance of focal species in control plots, and community composition). Thus, despite modest replication and a limited number of predictor variables, we were able to identify consistent patterns in response of 10 out of 20 species across multiple experiments. We conclude that the responses of individual species to nitrogen addition are often predictable, but that in most cases these responses are functions of the abiotic or biotic environment. Thus, a rigorous understanding of how plant species respond to nitrogen addition will have to consider not only the traits of individual plant species, but also aspects of the communities in which those plants live.

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