Phosphorus threatens existence of endangered plants

Nov 20, 2013

Plant species that persist in areas with low availability of phosphorus invest little in sexual reproduction. Due to the increase of phosphorus in their habitats and the fragmentation of low-phosphorus areas, these plant species, which already are on the 'red list', are under threat of going extinct. This issue was raised by researchers of Utrecht University, Wageningen University and other universities in their publication in Nature.

Profosser Martin Wassen (Universiteit Utrecht), research leader, had already pointed out in a 2005 issue of Nature that dozens of on the 'red list' were threatened with extinction by the increase of phosphorus in their habitats. These species are common in low-fertility soils, such as dune valleys, wet grasslands and peat bogs. It was, however, unclear why these particular species were so vulnerable. The first author Dr Yuki Fujita and her colleagues investigated this further with 491 plant species in 599 (semi-) in 9 countries across Europe and in Siberia.

Extra vulnerable

Fujita: "We discovered that plants that are able to survive in low-phosphorus soils invest little in . They flower in a short period of time or they do not produce many seeds. That is a useful adaptation in those conditions, as sexual reproductive organs require lots of phosphorus".

This adaptation makes these plant species extra vulnerable, since phosphorus-poor ecosystems are becoming scarcer and more scattered. "These species produce so few seeds that they have difficulty spreading out across large distances. This means they are essentially trapped in the few low-phosphorus areas that are still around. In order to prevent them from going extinct, we need to take urgent measures," says Wassen.

Necessary measures

Many soils are phosphorus-saturated and it will take decades to recover the original levels. As with nitrogen, there should be statutory regulations for phosphorus, according to the researchers. Furthermore, the existing low-fertility natural ecosystems should be adequately protected. In a number of areas with high levels of , the soil can be restored through water management and sod-cutting. Wassen: "In the end, we can preserve these unique plant species only if Europe is going to invest in a sufficiently robust and close-knit network of low-fertility nature reserves."

Explore further: Muddy forests, shorter winters present challenges for loggers

More information: "Low investment in sexual reproduction threatens plants adapted to phosphorus limitation." Yuki Fujita, Harry Olde Venterink, Peter M. van Bodegom, Jacob C. Douma, Gerrit W. Heil, Norbert Hölzel, Ewa Jabłońska, Wiktor Kotowski, Tomasz Okruszko, Paweł Pawlikowski, Peter C. de Ruiter, Martin J. Wassen, Nature (2013) DOI: 10.1038/nature12733. 17 November 2013

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Too much water, fertilizer bad for plant diversity

Mar 26, 2007

Too much of multiple good things -- water or nutrients, for example -- may decrease the diversity of plant life in an ecosystem while increasing the productivity of a few species, a UC Irvine scientist has discovered.

Recommended for you

Rising anger as Nicaragua canal to break ground

Dec 21, 2014

As a conscripted soldier during the Contra War of the 1980s, Esteban Ruiz used to flee from battles because he didn't want to have to kill anyone. But now, as the 47-year-old farmer prepares to fight for ...

Hopes, fears, doubts surround Cuba's oil future

Dec 20, 2014

One of the most prolific oil and gas basins on the planet sits just off Cuba's northwest coast, and the thaw in relations with the United States is giving rise to hopes that Cuba can now get in on the action.

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.