Carbon addition alters vegetation composition on ex-arable fields
Eschen, R., Mortimer, S. R., Lawson, C. S., Edwards, A. R., Brook, A. J., Igual, J. M., Hedlund, K. and Schaffner, U. (2007) Carbon addition alters vegetation composition on ex-arable fields. Journal of Applied Ecology, 44 (1). pp. 95-104. ISSN 0021-8901
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To link to this article DOI: 10.1111/j.1365-2664.2006.01240.x
1. Recent changes in European agricultural policy have led to measures to reverse the loss of species-rich grasslands through the creation of new areas on ex-arable land. Ex-arable soils are often characterized by high inorganic nitrogen (N) levels, which lead to the rapid establishment of annual and fast-growing perennial species during the initial phase of habitat creation. The addition of carbon (C) to the soil has been suggested as a countermeasure to reduce plant-available N and alter competitive interactions among plant species. 2. To test the effect of C addition on habitat creation on ex-arable land, an experiment was set up on two recently abandoned fields in Switzerland and on two 6-year-old restoration sites in the UK. Carbon was added as a mixture of either sugar and sawdust or wood chips and sawdust during a period of 2 years. The effects of C addition on soil parameters and vegetation composition were assessed during the period of C additions and 1 year thereafter. 3. Soil nitrate concentrations were reduced at all sites within weeks of the first C addition, and remained low until cessation of the C additions. The overall effect of C addition on vegetation was a reduction in above-ground biomass and cover. At the Swiss sites, the addition of sugar and sawdust led to a relative increase in legume and forb cover and to a decrease in grass cover. The soil N availability, composition of soil micro-organisms and vegetation characteristics continued to be affected after cessation of C additions. 4. Synthesis and applications. The results suggest that C addition in grassland restoration is a useful management method to reduce N availability on ex-arable land. Carbon addition alters the vegetation composition by creating gaps in the vegetation that facilitates the establishment of late-seral plant species, and is most effective when started immediately after the abandonment of arable fields and applied over several years.