Increased rainfall variability and nitrogen deposition accelerate succession along a common sere

Laura W. Ploughe, Nicholas G. Smith, Michael J. Schuster, Jeffrey S. Dukes

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Ongoing climate change is increasing rainfall variability in many parts of the world; in particular, the heaviest rainfall events are becoming heavier. In terrestrial ecosystems, nitrogen deposition is increasing as a result of emissions from fossil fuel burning and volatilization of nitrogen-based fertilizers. These changes in the timing and rate of resource inputs can impact plant communities by altering competitive dynamics, succession, and community composition. In many systems, these are occurring alongside successional dynamics, making it difficult to tease apart mechanisms. Here, we resampled a nitrogen by rainfall variability manipulation experiment in a restored tallgrass prairie to examine the relative role of background community dynamics and treatment effects on plant diversity. During the treatment period, nitrogen addition and increased rainfall variability reduced diversity. Here, four and five years after the treatments were halted, we found similarly low levels of diversity across all treatments—an effect driven by dominance of a tall, fast-growing, clonal forb, Solidago canadensis. The convergence of plots toward a low diversity state suggests that all experimental communities were gradually becoming dominated by S. canadensis, including in the absence of rainfall or nitrogen treatments. In contrast to short-term findings from the same experiment, we conclude that our treatments accelerated succession toward a tall, clonal forb-dominated community along an existing sere, but did not fundamentally alter longer-term community composition—a result that was only apparent several years after the conclusion of the experiment. These findings reinforce the need to interpret the results from short-term experimental manipulations within the context of long-term successional change.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere03313
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2021


  • Solidago canadensis
  • climate change
  • community composition
  • dominance
  • evenness
  • grassland
  • prairie
  • succession


Dive into the research topics of 'Increased rainfall variability and nitrogen deposition accelerate succession along a common sere'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this