The impact of nitrogen enrichment on grassland ecosystem stability depends on nitrogen addition level

Decao Niu, Xiaobo Yuan, Arianne J. Cease, Haiyan Wen, Chunping Zhang, Hua Fu, James J. Elser

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56 Scopus citations


Increasing atmospheric nitrogen (N) deposition may affect plant biodiversity, subsequently altering ecosystem stability. While a few studies have explored how simulated N deposition affects community stability and its underlying mechanisms, the experimental levels of N addition used are usually higher than current and future N deposition rates. Thus, their results could produce highly uncertain predictions of ecosystem function, especially if the responses to N deposition are nonlinear. We conducted a manipulative experiment that simulated elevated atmospheric N deposition with several N addition levels to evaluate the effect of N deposition on ecosystem stability and its underlying mechanisms in a semiarid grassland in northern China. Here we show that N addition altered community diversity, reducing species richness, evenness, diversity and dominance. In addition, we found that N addition at current N deposition levels had no significant impact on community stability. In contrast, N addition at levels from 4.6 to 13.8 g N m− 2 yr− 1 significantly decreased community stability, although community stability for the 13.8 g N m− 2 yr− 1 treatment was higher than that for the 4.6 g N m− 2 yr− 1 treatment. These results indicate that the response of community stability to N enrichment is nonlinear. This nonlinear change in community stability was positively correlated with species asynchrony, species richness, and species diversity as well as the stability of dominant species and the stability of the grass functional group. Our data suggest a need to re-evaluate the mechanisms responsible for the effects of N deposition on natural ecosystem stability across multiple levels of N enrichment and that additional experimentation with gradients of N loads more similar to future atmospheric N deposition rates is needed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1529-1538
Number of pages10
JournalScience of the Total Environment
StatePublished - Mar 15 2018


  • Community stability
  • Loess Plateau
  • Nitrogen deposition
  • Plant diversity
  • Portfolio effects
  • Species asynchrony


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