Nutrient identity modifies the destabilising effects of eutrophication in grasslands

Oliver Carroll*, Evan Batzer, Siddharth Bharath, Elizabeth T. Borer, Sofía Campana, Ellen Esch, Yann Hautier, Timothy Ohlert, Eric W. Seabloom, Peter B. Adler, Jonathan D. Bakker, Lori Biederman, Miguel N. Bugalho, Maria Caldeira, Qingqing Chen, Kendi F. Davies, Philip A. Fay, Johannes M.H. Knops, Kimberly Komatsu, Jason P. MartinaKevin S. McCann, Joslin L. Moore, John W. Morgan, Taofeek O. Muraina, Brooke Osborne, Anita C. Risch, Carly Stevens, Peter A. Wilfahrt, Laura Yahdjian, Andrew S. MacDougall

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalLetterpeer-review

16 Citations (Scopus)


Nutrient enrichment can simultaneously increase and destabilise plant biomass production, with co-limitation by multiple nutrients potentially intensifying these effects. Here, we test how factorial additions of nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P) and potassium with essential nutrients (K+) affect the stability (mean/standard deviation) of aboveground biomass in 34 grasslands over 7 years. Destabilisation with fertilisation was prevalent but was driven by single nutrients, not synergistic nutrient interactions. On average, N-based treatments increased mean biomass production by 21–51% but increased its standard deviation by 40–68% and so consistently reduced stability. Adding P increased interannual variability and reduced stability without altering mean biomass, while K+ had no general effects. Declines in stability were largest in the most nutrient-limited grasslands, or where nutrients reduced species richness or intensified species synchrony. We show that nutrients can differentially impact the stability of biomass production, with N and P in particular disproportionately increasing its interannual variability.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)754-765
Number of pages12
JournalEcology Letters
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2022


  • biodiversity loss
  • biomass
  • co-limitation
  • ecosystem function
  • ecosystem stability
  • nutrient Network (NutNet)
  • nutrient enrichment
  • synchrony
  • variability

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