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Worldwide study finds that fertilizer destabilizes grasslands
Date:2/16/2014

Lincoln, Neb., Feb. 17, 2014 -- Fertilizer could be too much of a good thing for the world's grasslands, according to study findings to be published online Feb. 16 by the journal Nature.

The worldwide study shows that, on average, additional nitrogen will increase the amount of grass that can be grown. But a smaller number of species thrive, crowding out others that are better adapted to survive in harsher times. It results in wilder swings in the amount of available forage.

"More nitrogen means more production, but it's less stable," said Johannes M.H. Knops, a University of Nebraska-Lincoln biologist and one of the paper's international co-authors. "There are more good years and more bad years. Not all years are going to be good and the bad years are going to be worse."

The three-year study monitored real-world grasslands at 41 locations on five continents. The sites included alpine grasslands in China, tallgrass prairies in the United States, pasture in Switzerland, savanna in Tanzania and old fields in Germany. Two sites in Nebraska were part of the study, the Cedar Point Biological Station near Ogallala and the Barta Brothers Ranch in the Sandhills near Valentine.

The study found common trends among grasslands around the world:

  • Natural -- unfertilized -- grasslands with a variety of grass species have more stability because of species "asynchrony," which means that different species thrive at different times so that the grassland produces more consistently over time. This finding was consistent with the findings of previous, single-site studies as well as previous biodiversity experiments conducted in Europe.
  • Fertilized plots saw declines in the numbers of species compared to unfertilized control plots. The plots averaged from 4.4 species to 32.3 species per square meter and declined by an average of 1.3 species per site.
  • Fertilization reduced species asynchrony and increased the variation in pro
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Contact: Johannes M.H. Knops
jknops@unl.edu
402-817-6957
University of Nebraska-Lincoln
Source:Eurekalert  

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