Larger direct than indirect effects of multiple environmental changes on leaf nitrogen of forest herbs

Haben Blondeel, Elyn Remy, Michael P. Perring, Dries Landuyt, Samuel Bodé, Pieter De Frenne, Pascal Boeckx, Kris Verheyen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Citations (Scopus)
58 Downloads (Pure)


Aims: Disentangling direct and indirect effects of global change drivers on plant nitrogen (N) uptake in leaves is important for understanding species and community responses in a changing world. Methods: We created understorey herb communities on forest soils with and without recent agricultural history. We traced pulse additions of 15NH4 15NO3 within these mesocosms while applying two-level factorial treatments of N enrichment, warming and illumination. We modelled direct and indirect effects of treatments on leaf N content and 15N uptake in leaves. Results: Warming and illumination had three times larger direct negative effects on leaf N content per dry mass and percentage leaf N derived from label (Ndfl%) than their indirect negative effects via an increasing community cover. These results imply a tissue dilution of N with increasing growth, in response to environmental change directly and indirectly exacerbated by community cover. We additionally found that interspecific differences in Ndfl% correlated with a species’ colonisation capacity and resource acquisition strategy. Conclusions: Global change can directly affect allocation of N into foliage, with simultaneous indirect effects via altered community properties that influence individual plant responses. Predicting the future of plant communities in a changing world requires accounting for such understudied pathways.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)199-216
Number of pages18
JournalPlant and Soil
Issue number1-2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2019


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