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Nitrogen deposition and plant biodiversity: past, present, and future

Payne, RJ and Dise, NB and Field, CD and Dore, AJ and Caporn, SJM and Stevens, CJ (2017) Nitrogen deposition and plant biodiversity: past, present, and future. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, 15 (8). pp. 431-436. ISSN 1540-9295


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© The Ecological Society of America. Reactive nitrogen (N) deposition from intensive agricultural and industrial activity has been identified as the third greatest threat to global terrestrial biodiversity, after land-use and climate change. While the impacts of N deposition are widely acknowledged, their magnitude is poorly quantified. We combine N deposition models, empirical response functions, and vegetation mapping to simulate the effects of N deposition on plant species richness from 1900 to 2030, using the island of Great Britain as a case study. We find that current species richness values – when averaged across five widespread habitat types – are approximately one-third less than without N deposition. Our results suggest that currently expected reductions in emissions will achieve no more than modest increases in species richness by 2030, and that emissions cuts based on habitat-specific “critical loads” may be an inefficient approach to managing N deposition for the protection of plant biodiversity. The effects of N deposition on biodiversity are severe and are unlikely to be quickly reversed.

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