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Grassland productivity limited by multiple nutrients

Philip A. Fay, Suzanne M. Prober, W. Stanley Harpole, Johannes M. H. Knops, Jonathan D. Bakker, Elizabeth T. Borer, Eric M. Lind, Andrew S. MacDougall, Eric W. Seabloom, Peter D. Wragg, Peter B. Adler, Dana M. Blumenthal, Yvonne M. Buckley, Chengjin Chu, Elsa E. Cleland, Scott L. Collins, Kendi F. Davies, Guozhen Du, Xiaohui Feng, Jennifer Firn, Daniel S. Gruner, Nicole Hagenah, Yann Hautier, Robert W. Heckman, Virginia L. Jin, Kevin P. Kirkman, Julia Klein, Laura M. Ladwig, Qi Li, Rebecca L. McCulley, Brett A. Melbourne, Charles E. Mitchell, Joslin L. Moore, John W. Morgan, Anita C. Risch, Martin Schütz, Carly J. Stevens, David A. Wedin & Louie H. Yang
Terrestrial ecosystem productivity is widely accepted to be nutrient limited1. Although nitrogen (N) is deemed a key determinant of aboveground net primary production (ANPP)2,3, the prevalence of co-limitation by N and phosphorus (P) is increasingly recognized4,​5,​6,​7,​8. However, the extent to which terrestrial productivity is co-limited by nutrients other than N and P has remained unclear. Here, we report results from a standardized factorial nutrient addition experiment, in which we added N, P and potassium (K) combined with a selection of micronutrients (K+μ), alone or in concert, to 42 grassland sites spanning five continents, and monitored ANPP. Nutrient availability limited productivity at 31 of the 42 grassland sites. And pairwise combinations of N, P, and K+μ co-limited ANPP at 29 of the sites. Nitrogen limitation peaked in cool, high latitude sites. Our findings highlight the importance of less studied nutrients, such as K and micronutrients, for grassland productivity, and point to significant variations in the type and degree of nutrient limitation. We suggest that multiple-nutrient constraints must be considered when assessing the ecosystem-scale consequences of nutrient enrichment.