Faculté des sciences

Carbon addition alters vegetation composition on ex-arable fields

Eschen, René ; Mortimer, Simon R. ; Lawson, Clare S. ; Edwards, Andrew R. ; Brook, Alex J. ; Igual, José M. ; Hedlund, Katarina ; Schaffner, Urs

In: Journal of Applied Ecology, 2007, vol. 44, no. 1, p. 95–104

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... Plus

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    Summary
    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.