While public attention has grown about elevated levels of carbon dioxide and global warming, Knops said elevated levels of mineral nitrogen in the environment also are concerning. While it's rare for ranchers and farmers to fertilize rangeland and pasture, grasslands are affected by nitrogen deposition that results from burning fossil fuels, as well as from fertilizer runoff and ammonia volatilization from cropland.
Knops said fertilizer overuse could intensify the detrimental effects of drought on grasslands, such as the drought that devastated cattle herds in Texas and Oklahoma from 2011-13, when Texas lost about 15 percent of its cattle herd, or about 2 million animals.
It also could have ripple effects during bad years by reducing the plant cover, which increases erosion, and decreases water filtration and carbon sequestration benefits provided by grasslands.
The Nature article, "Eutrophication weakens stabilizing effects of diversity in natural grasslands," is one of several research articles on the relationships between grassland diversity, productivity and stability, generated by the Nutrient Network experiment. Knops called it an unprecedented experiment.
"In the past you didn't see a collaborative effort at a really large scale like this in biology or in ecology," he said.
|Contact: Johannes M.H. Knops|
University of Nebraska-Lincoln