Question: We studied the development and persistence of the effects of nutrient pulses on biomass production and species composition in a fen meadow.
Location: Nature reserve, central Netherlands, 5 m a.s.l.
Methods: Single pulse fertilization with N and P in a factorial design on an undrained central and a drained margin site in a species-rich fen meadow (Cirsio dissecti-Molinietum). Biomass production and species composition were monitored during four years.
Results: At the central site, N addition boosted biomass production, but only during one year. The species composition was not changed. P fertilization increased the biomass production and changed the species composition from a vegetation dominated by Carex panicea to a grassland community with abundant Holcus lanatus, but not before the second year. At the margin site, P fertilization changed the species composition in a similar way, but biomass production was not increased. N fertilization had no effect. At both sites the P induced shift in species composition persisted for four years although the P effect declined during the experiment.
Conclusions: The biomass responses show that N was limiting in the central site. Another nutrient, besides N and P (probably K) must have been limiting in the marginal site. The fast decline of the N effect on biomass is ascribed to increased denitrification and biomass removal. The delay in the P effect on biomass and species composition and the persistence of the P effect on species composition are ascribed to fast immobilisation and subsequent slow release of fertilizer P in the peat soil. Recurrence of the P pulses is expected to cause permanent changes in species composition.