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Review article - Peer-reviewed, 2022

The Effects of Nitrogen Fertilisation on Plant Species Richness in European Permanent Grasslands: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis

Francksen, Richard M.; Turnbull, Samantha; Rhymer, Caroline M.; Hiron, Matthew; Bufe, Conny; Klaus, Valentin H.; Newell-Price, Paul; Stewart, Gavin; Whittingham, Mark J.


Nitrogen fertilisation is a common form of agricultural intensification, aimed at increasing biomass, which can affect plant species diversity and ecosystem functioning. Using a systematic review and meta-analysis of nitrogen fertilisation studies in European permanent grasslands, we asked: (i) what relationship form exists between nitrogen application rate and change in plant diversity, compared to zero fertilisation controls; and (ii) how grassland, management and study characteristics affect this relationship. Meta-analysis of 34 control-treatment effects from 14 studies conducted across nine European countries revealed a negative linear relationship between nitrogen fertilisation rate and change in plant species richness, equivalent to approximately 1.5 species/m(2) lost for every 100 Kg ha(-1) yr(-1) of nitrogen added. Fertilisation induced reductions in plant species richness were greater when defoliation rates were lower. We found some evidence that grasslands with a higher baseline plant diversity lost more species when fertilised compared to more species poor grasslands, although uncertainty was high. Due to the diverse grassland types included in the analysis, the variability in fertilisation-driven changes in plant diversity was high. We identified several remaining limitations to our understanding, including uncertainty about non-linear effects, which could aid efforts to optimise the trade-off of plant diversity and increasing grassland yields.


enrichment; plant diversity; agricultural intensification; management intensity

Published in

2022, volume: 12, number: 12, article number: 2928
Publisher: MDPI

Authors' information

Francksen, Richard M.
Newcastle University - UK
Turnbull, Samantha
Newcastle University - UK
Rhymer, Caroline M.
Newcastle University - UK
Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Department of Ecology
Bufe, Conny
Wageningen University and Research
Klaus, Valentin H.
ETH Zurich
Klaus, Valentin H.
Swiss Federal Research Station Agroscope
Stewart, Gavin
Newcastle University - UK
Whittingham, Mark J.
Newcastle University - UK

Associated SLU-program


UKÄ Subject classification

Agricultural Science

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