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It is widely accepted that nitrogen limits primary production in temperate forests, although co-limitation by N and P has also been suggested, and on some soils Ca and base cations are in short supply. I conducted a meta-analysis to assess the strength of existing experimental evidence for limitation of primary production by N, P, and Ca in hardwood forests of the northeastern United States and southeastern Canada, using data from 35 fertilization experiments in deciduous forests on glaciated soils across the region.
There is strong evidence for N limitation (formal meta-analysis weighted mean response ratio = 1.51, p < 0.01; simple mean = 1.42, p < 0.001). Forest productivity also tends to increase with additions of P (simple mean = 1.15, p = 0.05) and Ca (simple mean = 1.36 p < 0.001). Across all treatments, 85% of response ratios were positive. Multiple-element additions had larger effects than single elements, but factorial experiments showed little evidence of synergistic effects between nutrient additions. Production responses correlated positively with the rate of N fertilization, but this effect was reduced at high rates of ambient N deposition.
Earth Systems Research Center
Canadian Journal of Forest Research
NRC Research Press
Digital Object Identifier (DOI)
Vadeboncoeur, M.A. 2010. Meta-analysis of fertilization experiments indicates multiple limiting nutrients in northeastern deciduous forests. Canadian Journal of Forest Research 40(9): 1766–1780.