Assessing the roles of nitrogen, biomass, and niche dimensionality as drivers of species loss in grassland communities

Nir Band*, Ronen Kadmon, Micha Mandel, Niv DeMalach

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

22 Scopus citations


Eutrophication is a major driver of species loss in plant communities worldwide. However, the underlying mechanisms of this phenomenon are controversial. Previous studies have raised three main explanations: 1) High levels of soil resources increase standing biomass, thereby intensifying competitive interactions (the “biomass-driven competition hypothesis”). 2) High levels of soil resources reduce the potential for resource-based niche partitioning (the “niche dimension hypothesis”). 3) Increasing soil nitrogen causes stress by changing the abiotic or biotic conditions (the “nitrogen detriment hypothesis”). Despite several syntheses of resource addition experiments, so far, no study has tested all of the hypotheses together. This is a major shortcoming, since the mechanisms underlying the three hypotheses are not independent. Here, we conduct a simultaneous test of the three hypotheses by integrating data from 630 resource addition experiments located in 99 sites worldwide. Our results provide strong support for the nitrogen detriment hypothesis, weaker support for the biomass-driven competition hypothesis, and negligible support for the niche dimension hypothesis. The results further show that the indirect effect of nitrogen through its effect on biomass is minor compared to its direct effect and is much larger than that of all other resources (phosphorus, potassium, and water). Thus, we conclude that nitrogen-specific mechanisms are more important than biomass or niche dimensionality as drivers of species loss under high levels of soil resources. This conclusion is highly relevant for future attempts to reduce biodiversity loss caused by global eutrophication.

Original languageAmerican English
Article numbere2112010119
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number10
StatePublished - 8 Mar 2022

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  • Fertilization
  • Meta-analysis
  • Nutrient enrichment
  • Productivity
  • Species diversity


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