Atmospheric nitrogen deposition in terrestrial ecosystems: Its impact on plant communities and consequences across trophic levels

A - Papers appearing in refereed journals

Stevens, C., David, T. and Storkey, J. 2018. Atmospheric nitrogen deposition in terrestrial ecosystems: Its impact on plant communities and consequences across trophic levels. Functional Ecology. 32 (7), pp. 1757-1769.

AuthorsStevens, C., David, T. and Storkey, J.

The global nitrogen cycle has been greatly perturbed by human activities resulting in elevated nitrogen deposition in many parts of the world. The threat nitrogen deposition poses to ecosystem function and biodiversity is increasingly recognised.
In terrestrial systems, impacts on the plant community are mainly through eutrophication and soil acidification. Interactions with secondary environmental drivers such as extreme weather and disease are also key mechanisms.
Impacts on consumers can be caused by changes in the quality or quantity of food as a result of changes in food plant chemistry or species composition, changes in vegetation structure leading to a change in the availability of prey species, nesting sites or cooled microclimates or changes in the phenology of plants leading to causing phenological asynchrony.
Primary consumers have received considerably less research attention than plants but negative impacts have been observed for both folivorous insects and pollinators. Mammal herbivores have received little research attention.
New analysis of changes in plant traits along a gradient of nitrogen deposition in the UK shows that plants pollinated by large bees were negatively associated with N deposition whilst low pH was associated with lower nectar production, reduced occurrence of plants pollinated by long‐tongued insects and a reduction in plants with larger floral units.
Very few studies have investigated the effects on secondary consumers, but those that have suggest that there are likely to be negative impacts.
This review identifies considerable knowledge gaps in the impacts of N deposition on higher tropic levels and highlights that for many groups, knowledge of N deposition impacts is patchy at best. Evidence that has been collected suggests that there are likely to be impacts on primary and secondary consumers making this a priority area for investigation.

Keywordsatmospheric nitrogen deposition consumers; folivorous insects; herbivores pollinators; primary producers
Year of Publication2018
JournalFunctional Ecology
Journal citation32 (7), pp. 1757-1769
Digital Object Identifier (DOI)
Open accessPublished as non-open access
FunderLawes Agricultural Trust
Natural Environment Research Council
Funder project or codeASSIST - Achieving Sustainable Agricultural Systems
Publication dates
Online09 Feb 2018
Publication process dates
Accepted01 Feb 2018

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