Long-term effects of short-term perturbation in a sub-alpine grassland

Theoretical advances and short-term experimental studies have furthered our understanding of how ecosystems respond to perturbation. However, there are few wellreplicated experimental studies that allow an assessment of long-term responses. Results from a controlled, large-scale field experiment in a subalpine grassland near Interlaken, Switzerland, show that 2–4 years of liming (Ca: 40 g_m_2_yr_1) still significantly affected the composition of the vegetation and the soil microbial community nearly 70 years after the treatments were imposed, whereas NPK fertilization (8 g_m_2_yr_1) only marginally affected vegetation composition. The exchangeable content of Ca ions and soil pH were higher in limed plots, but were unaffected in fertilized plots. Plant species and PLFAs (phospholipid fatty acids) indicating low pH values were found in higher abundance in the unlimed plots, suggesting that the long-lasting effects of liming on the above- and belowground communities were mediated through changes in soil pH. The results of this long-term study indicate that the resilience of mountain ecosystems may be particularly low in response to perturbations that substantially alter soil pH or other key determinants of belowground processes.

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Ecology, 87, 1939-1944

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 Record created 2009-02-03, last modified 2020-07-30

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