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Research article - Peer-reviewed, 2018

Currently legislated decreases in nitrogen deposition will yield only limited plant species recovery in European forests

Dirnboeck, Thomas; Proell, Gisela; Austnes, Kari; Beloica, Jelena; Beudert, Burkhard; Canullo, Roberto; De Marco, Alessandra; Fornasier, Maria Francesca; Futter, Martyn; Goergen, Klaus; Grandin, Ulf; Holmberg, Maria; Lindroos, Antti-Jussi; Mirtl, Michael; Neirynck, Johan; Pecka, Tomasz; Nieminen, Tiina Maileena; Nordbakken, Jorn-Frode; Posch, Maximilian; Reinds, Gert-Jan;
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Atmospheric nitrogen (N) pollution is considered responsible for a substantial decline in plant species richness and for altered community structures in terrestrial habitats worldwide. Nitrogen affects habitats through direct toxicity, soil acidification, and in particular by favoring fast-growing species. Pressure from N pollution is decreasing in some areas. In Europe (EU28), overall emissions ofNO(x) declined by more than 50% while NH3 declined by less than 30% between the years 1990 and 2015, and further decreases may be achieved. The timescale over which these improvements will affect ecosystems is uncertain. Here we use 23 European forest research sites with high quality long-term data on deposition, climate, soil recovery, and understory vegetation to assess benefits of currently legislated N deposition reductions in forest understory vegetation. A dynamic soil model coupled to a statistical plant species niche model was applied with site-based climate and deposition. We use indicators of N deposition and climate warming effects such as the change in the occurrence of oligophilic, acidophilic, and cold-tolerant plant species to compare the present with projections for 2030 and 2050. The decrease in N deposition under current legislation emission (CLE) reduction targets until 2030 is not expected to result in a release from eutrophication. Albeit the model predictions show considerable uncertainty when compared with observations, they indicate that oligophilic forest understory plant species will further decrease. This result is partially due to confounding processes related to climate effects and to major decreases in sulphur deposition and consequent recovery from soil acidification, but shows that decreases in N deposition under CLE will most likely be insufficient to allow recovery from eutrophication.


LTER; forest ecosystem; air pollution; modelling; climate change; LRTAP Convention

Published in

Environmental Research Letters
2018, volume: 13, number: 12, article number: 125010

Authors' information

Dirnboeck, Thomas
Environm Agcy Austria
Proell, Gisela
Environm Agcy Austria
Austnes, Kari
Norwegian Institute for Water Research (NIVA)
Beloica, Jelena
University of Belgrade
Beudert, Burkhard
Natl Park Bayrischer Wald
Canullo, Roberto
University of Camerino
De Marco, Alessandra
Italian National Agency New Technical Energy and Sustainable Economics Development
Fornasier, Maria Francesca
Inst Env Protect and Res ISPRA
Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Department of Aquatic Sciences and Assessment
Goergen, Klaus
Helmholtz Association
Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Department of Aquatic Sciences and Assessment
Holmberg, Maria
Finnish Environment Institute
Lindroos, Antti-Jussi
Natural Resources Institute Finland (Luke)
Mirtl, Michael
Environm Agcy Austria
Neirynck, Johan
Research Institute for Nature and Forest
Pecka, Tomasz
Inst Environm Protect IOS PIB
Nieminen, Tiina Maileena
Natural Resources Institute Finland (Luke)
Nordbakken, Jorn-Frode
Norwegian Inst Bioecon Res
Posch, Maximilian
International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA)
Reinds, Gert-Jan
Wageningen University and Research
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UKÄ Subject classification

Forest Science

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