Expansion of invasive species on ombrotrophic bogs: desiccation or high N deposition?
In many ombrotrophic bog areas the invasion of grass (e.g. Molinia caerulea) and tree (e.g. Betula pubescens) species has become a major problem. We investigated whether the invasion of such species is due to high atmospheric nitrogen (N) deposition by conducting a fertilization experiment. The effects of experimentally increased N input on Molinia, Betula and Eriophorum vaginatum were studied in desiccated bog vegetation in Ireland, where there is relatively low background N deposition. Four different N treatments were applied for 3 years: 0 (control), 2, 4 and 8 g m-2 year-1. Ammonium and nitrate concentrations in the peat moisture increased at high N addition rates, leading to significantly higher carbon:nitrogen (C:N) and nitrogen:phosphorus (N:P) ratios in the top layer of the peat. The potential CO2 production rate of the peat was not stimulated at high N addition rates due to severe acidification of the peat. Despite high tissue N:P ratios (above 40), above-ground biomass production by Molinia was stimulated at high N addition rates, and foliar nutrient concentrations were unaffected. In contrast to Molinia, Betula and Eriophorum were unable to increase their above-ground biomass, probably due to P limitation. Regrowth of the lichen Cladonia portentosa was suppressed at high N addition rates. Synthesis and applications. We conclude that the invasion of bogs by Molinia and Betula is likely to be less affected by desiccation than by increased N availability. Apparently, Molinia is well adapted to P-limiting conditions, which may explain its success in regions with increased N deposition levels. The high availability of P in many Dutch bogs compared with Irish bogs, together with prolonged high N deposition levels, may explain the strong increase in both Molinia and Betula observed in the Netherlands. As long as N and P availabilities in Dutch bogs are too high to prevent invasion of Betula and/or Molinia, management measures stimulating growth of Sphagnum mosses could probably reduce the negative effects of high N deposition levels.