Question: What are the long-term implications of former fertilisation for the ecological restoration of calcareous grasslands?
Location: Gerendal, Limburg, The Netherlands.
Methods: In 1970, ten permanent plots were established in just abandoned agricultural calcareous grassland under a regime of annual mowing in August. From 1971 to 1979, two different fertiliser treatments were applied twice a year to a subset of the plots (artificial fertiliser with different proportions of nitrogen and phosphorus). The vegetation of the plots was recorded yearly and vegetation biomass samples were taken for peak standing crop and total amounts of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium. Species composition and floristic diversity were analysed over the research period (1970–2006) and between the treatments, including the use of multivariate techniques (Detrended Correspondence Analysis).
Results: In terms of species number, there is a clear optimum 10 to 20 years after fertilisation has been terminated. Afterwards, there is a slow decrease; no new species appear and species of more nutrient-rich conditions gradually disappear. For the fertilised plots that received a relatively high proportion of N, effects are found only in the first years, whereas, for the plots that received a relatively high proportion of P, long-term after-effects are found in species composition, peak standing crop, total amounts of phosphorus in biomass, and in soil phosphorus data.
Conclusions: The effect of artificial fertiliser with a large amount of nitrogen disappears in less than ten years when mown in August, including removal of the hay. This is a promising result for restoration of N-enriched calcareous grasslands, as the applied dose of nitrogen in this experiment largely exceeds the extra input of nitrogen via atmospheric deposition. Application of fertiliser with a large amount of phosphorus, however, has effects even more than 25 years after the last addition. There are no prospects that this effect will become reduced in the near future under the current mowing management.