The intensification of land use constitutes one of the main drivers of global change and alters nutrient fluxes on all spatial scales, causing landscape‐level eutrophication and contamination of natural resources. Changes in soil nutrient concentrations are thus indicative for crucial environmental issues associated with intensive land use. We measured concentrations of NO3–N, NH4–N, P, K, Mg, and Ca using 1,326 ion‐exchange resin bags buried in 20 cm depth beneath the main root zone in 150 temperate grasslands. Nutrient concentrations were related to land use intensity, that is, fertilization, mowing, grazing intensities, and plant diversity by structural equation modeling. Furthermore, we assessed the response of soil nutrients to mechanical sward disturbance and subsequent reseeding, a common practice for grassland renewal. Land use intensity, especially fertilization, significantly increased the concentrations of NO3–N, NH4–N, K, P, and also Mg. Besides fertilization (and tightly correlated mowing) intensity, grazing strongly increased NO3–N and K concentrations. Plant species richness decreased P and NO3–N concentrations in soil when grassland productivity of the actual year was statistically taken into account, but not when long‐term averages of productivity were used. Thus, we assume that, in the actual study year, a distinct drought period might have caused the observed decoupling of productivity from fertilization and soil nutrients. Breaking up the grassland sward drastically increased NO3–N concentrations (+146%) but reduced NH4–N, P, and K concentrations, unbalancing soil nutrient stoichiometry and boosting the risk of N leaching. Reseeding the sward after disturbance did not have a short‐term effect on nutrient concentrations. We conclude that renewal of permanent grassland should be avoided as far as possible and future grassland management has to strongly rise the effectiveness of fertilization. Additionally, grassland management might have to increasingly taking care of periods of drought, in which nutrient additions might not increase plant growth but potentially only facilitate leaching.
Global Change Biology – Wiley
Published: Jan 1, 2018
Keywords: ; ; ; ; ; ; ;
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