Adema, E.B. (2005) Enhanced nitrogen loss may explain alternative stable states in dune slack succession. Oikos, 109, 374-386. ISSN 0030-1299.
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Official URL: http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.0030-1299.2005.13339.x
Ecological theory emphasizes competitive interactions between plant species when explaining primary succession in plants. Ecosystem processes, such as nutrient accumulation, are often regarded as independent, steering successional changes without being affected by the interacting plant species. We present experimental evidence that plant species in wet dune slack systems are able to affect ecosystem processes in their favor by reducing the rate of nitrogen accumulation by coupled nitrificationdenitrification, promoting their competitive position. We compared denitrification rates of two early successional species having radial oxygen loss (ROL) with two non-ROL late successional species in a mesocosm experiment. The denitrification rates were significantly higher in mesocosms planted with early successional species Littorella uniflora (P<0.001) and Schoenus nigricans (P<0.05), relative to the rates found in the presence of non-ROL species, Carex nigra and Calamagrostis epigejos. We analyzed the consequences of enhanced nitrogen loss on the competition between an early and a late successional species by means of a simple theoretical model. Our analysis revealed that early successional species capable of ROL might retard successional changes and lock the ecosystem in an unproductive state for an extended period of time. We emphasize that understanding of ecosystem processes is crucial in successful conservation of high biodiversity vegetation in wet dune slacks.
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