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Plant Ecology

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Human-mediated nutrient amendments have widespread effects on plant communities. One of the major consequences has been the loss of species diversity under increased nutrient inputs. The loss of species can be functional group dependent with certain functional groups being more prone to decline than others. We present results from the sixth year of a long-term fertilization and litter manipulation study in an old-field grassland. We measured plant tissue chemistry (C:N ratio) to understand the role of plant physiological responses in the increase or decline of functional groups under nutrient manipulations. Fertilized plots had significantly more total aboveground biomass and live biomass than unfertilized plots, which was largely due to greater productivity by exotic C3 grasses. We found that both fertilization and litter treatments affected plant species richness. Species richness was lower on plots that were fertilized or had litter intact; species losses were primarily from forbs and non-Poaceae graminoids. C3 grasses and forbs had lower C:N ratios under fertilization with forbs having marginally greater %N responses to fertilization than grasses. Tissue chemistry in the C3 grasses also varied depending on tissue type with reproductive tillers having higher C:N ratios than vegetative tillers. Although forbs had greater tissue chemistry responses to fertilization, they did not have a similar positive response in productivity and the number of forb species is decreasing on our experimental plots. Overall, differential nutrient uptake and use among functional groups influenced biomass production and species interactions, favoring exotic C3 grasses and leading to their dominance. These data suggest functional groups may differ in their responses to anthropogenic nutrient amendments, ultimately influencing plant community composition.