Nutrient enrichment of native grasslands can promote invasion by exotic plant species, leading to reduced biodiversity and altered ecosystem function. Empirical evidence suggests that positive feedbacks may make such transitions difficult to reverse. We developed a mathematical model of grassland dynamics in which one group of species (native) is a better competitor for nitrogen (N) and another group (exotic) is a better competitor for light. We parameterized the model for a grassland community and reproduced observed transitions from a native- to an exotic-dominated state under N loading. Within known bounds of parameter values, both smooth and hysteretic transitions are plausible. The model also predicts that N loading alone is insufficient to achieve a transition to an exotic-dominated state on a timescale relevant to grassland management (a few decades), and that therefore some other disturbance (e.g., fire suppression or heaving grazing) must be present to accelerate it. The model predicts that to restore a grassland to a native-dominated state after N inputs have been reduced, fire and carbon supplements would be most effective. Further field research in N-enriched invaded grasslands is required to establish the strengths of positive feedbacks and, in turn, the consequences of anthropogenic modification of grasslands worldwide.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Ecological Modeling
- Alternative stable states
- Nutrient enrichment