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Linkages between Phosphorus and Plant Diversity in Central European Forest Ecosystems—Complementarity or Competition?

Rieger, Isaak; Kowarik, Ingo; Ziche, Daniel; Wellbrock, Nicole; Cierjacks, Arne

The phosphorus nutrition status of European forests has decreased significantly in recent decades. For a deeper understanding of complementarity and competition in terms of P acquisition in temperate forests, we have analyzed α-diversity, organic layer and mineral soil P, P nutrition status, and different concepts of P use efficiency (PUE) in Fagus sylvatica L. (European beech) and Picea abies (L.) H. Karst. (Norway spruce). Using a subset of the Second National Soil Survey in Germany, we correlated available data on P in the organic layer and soil with α-diversity indices for beech and spruce forests overall and for individual vegetation layers (tree, shrub, herb, and moss layers). Moreover, we investigated α-diversity feedbacks on P nutrition status and PUE of both tree species. The overall diversity of both forest ecosystems was largely positively related to P content in the organic layer and soil, but there were differences among the vegetation layers. Diversity in the tree layer of both forest ecosystems was negatively related to the organic layer and soil P. By contrast, shrub diversity showed no correlation to P, while herb layer diversity was negatively related to P in the organic layer but positively to P in soil. A higher tree layer diversity was slightly related to increased P recycling efficiency (PPlant/Porganic layer) in European beech and P uptake efficiency (PPlant/Psoil) in Norway spruce. The diversity in the herb layer was negatively related to P recycling and uptake efficiency in European beech and slightly related to P uptake efficiency in Norway spruce. In spruce forests, overall and herb species richness led to significantly improved tree nutrition status. Our results confirm significant, non-universal relationships between P and diversity in temperate forests with variations among forest ecosystems, vegetation layers, and P in the organic layer or soil. In particular, tree species diversity may enhance complementarity and hence also P nutrition of dominant forest trees through higher PUE, whereas moss and herb layers seemed to show competitive relationships among each other in nutrient cycling.
Published in: Forests, 10.3390/f10121156, MDPI