Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Nitrogen: The Silent Species Eliminator

Date:
October 14, 2007
Source:
European Science Foundation
Summary:
Nitrogen pollution from agriculture and fossil fuels is known to be seriously damaging grasslands in the UK. A new European study is starting to show that the effect is Europe-wide, confirming that current policies to protect ecosystems may need a rethink.

Nitrogen pollution from agriculture and fossil fuels is known to be seriously damaging grasslands in the UK. A new European study is starting to show that the effect is Europe-wide, confirming that current policies to protect ecosystems may need a re-think.

Related Articles


When Carly Stevens finished her PhD in 2004, her findings were published in Science. Stevens had found the first evidence that nitrogen deposition from the atmosphere was depleting numbers of plant species in British grasslands. “There was experimental evidence that this could happen, but we were the first to show the effect is real and happening now,” says David Gowing, one of Stevens’ PhD supervisors at TheOpen University in the UK.

Stevens studied acid grasslands – upland pastures with relatively infertile soils. She found that in places where more nitrogen is deposited, there are fewer plant species. The gradient was so pronounced that one species has been lost for each additional 2.5 kg of nitrogen per hectare deposited every year. Nitrogen from man-made sources, like intensive farming and cars, causes significant air pollution in the UK, and some is deposited from the air on to the land. Deposition is highest in densely-populated areas, and in Britain ranges from about 5 to 35 kg of nitrogen per hectare per year.

The approach to protecting wildlife from nitrogen pollution is to calculate critical load values for different ecosystems – how much nitrogen a system can accumulate every year before damage occurs. Infertile habitats, like heathlands and bogs, are the most vulnerable. But Stevens’ research showed that species are being lost even where deposition is ‘beneath’ the critical load for grasslands.

“The species aren’t going extinct,” Stevens stresses, “but if this is happening everywhere, we are moving towards much more species-poor grasslands, and we have no idea what the knock-on effects of that will be.”

So last year, Stevens, her UK colleagues David Gowing, Nancy Dise and Owen Mountford, and a team of experts from Germany, the Netherlands and France, embarked on a Europe wide project, part of the European Science Foundation (ESF) EuroDIVERSITY Programme. The project’s aim is to see if the effects are the same on a wider range of grasslands, across the entire Atlantic side of Europe. “The low countries and northern Germany are the epicentre of European nitrogen deposition,” says Gowing.

70 new grasslands in at least nine countries have been added to the picture, including different types of grassland. So far, the first year’s field results seem to adhere to the pattern, showing that species loss is directly related to long term deposition of nitrogen. “The loss in Great Britain is much larger than people had imagined,” says Dise. “It’s almost 25% of species at the average deposition rate. If this is occurring across Europe, it will be a very important find.” Wildflowers and other broad-leaved species, rather than grasses, are the hardest hit.

The team has started experiments to see if they can establish how extra nitrogen has these effects. They hope to predict what will happen in the future. “Nitrogen deposition in Europe probably peaked in the 1990s, and is coming down now in many places,” says Gowing. But it may not be appropriate for policymakers to relax. “Having been accumulating nitrogen for 40 years,” he continues, “we might be near the edge of the cliff where communities will suddenly change. Perhaps we’ll be able to say: you have another five years of accumulating at this rate, so now is the time to act.”

What should be done? “We are hoping for a clear signal that you can maintain species richness [under nitrogen deposition] by biomass stripping,” says Gowing. That means extra mowing and grazing. “If we find one, we can offer a management strategy for nature conservation.”

References: Stevens, C.J., Dise, N.B., Mountford, J.O. and Gowing, D.G. 2004. Impact of nitrogen deposition on the species richness of grasslands. Science 303: 1876-1879.

Stevens, C.J., Dise, N.B. Gowing, D.G. and Mountford, J.O. 2006. Loss of forb diversity in relation to nitrogen deposition in the UK: regional trends and potential controls. Global Change Biology 12: 1823-1833.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by European Science Foundation. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

European Science Foundation. "Nitrogen: The Silent Species Eliminator." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 14 October 2007. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/10/071012105816.htm>.
European Science Foundation. (2007, October 14). Nitrogen: The Silent Species Eliminator. ScienceDaily. Retrieved November 22, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/10/071012105816.htm
European Science Foundation. "Nitrogen: The Silent Species Eliminator." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/10/071012105816.htm (accessed November 22, 2014).

Share This


More From ScienceDaily



More Earth & Climate News

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Anglerfish Rarely Seen In Its Habitat Will Haunt You

Anglerfish Rarely Seen In Its Habitat Will Haunt You

Newsy (Nov. 22, 2014) For the first time Monterey Bay Aquarium recorded a video of the elusive, creepy and rarely seen anglerfish. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Raw: Buffalo Residents Digging Out, Helping out

Raw: Buffalo Residents Digging Out, Helping out

AP (Nov. 22, 2014) Hundreds of volunteers joined a 'shovel brigade' in Buffalo, New York on Saturday, as the city was living up to its nickname, "The City of Good Neighbors." Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Toyota's Hydrogen Fuel-Cell Green Car Soon Available in the US

Toyota's Hydrogen Fuel-Cell Green Car Soon Available in the US

AFP (Nov. 21, 2014) Toyota presented its hydrogen fuel-cell compact car called "Mirai" to US consumers at the Los Angeles auto show. The car should go on sale in 2015 for around $60.000. It combines stored hydrogen with oxygen to generate its own power. Duration: 01:18 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Google Announces Improvements To Balloon-Borne Wi-Fi Project

Google Announces Improvements To Balloon-Borne Wi-Fi Project

Newsy (Nov. 21, 2014) In a blog post, Google said its balloons have traveled 3 million kilometers since the start of Project Loon. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Plants & Animals

Earth & Climate

Fossils & Ruins

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins