Long-term impacts of nitrogen deposition on coastal plant communities

Robin J. Pakeman* (Corresponding Author), Jim Alexander, Rob Brooker, Roger Cummins, Debbie Fielding, Sarah Gore, Richard Hewison, Ruth Mitchell, Emily Moore, Katy Orford, Clare Pemberton, Clare Trinder, Rob Lewis

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

24 Citations (Scopus)


Nitrogen deposition has been shown to have significant impacts on a range of vegetation types resulting in eutrophication and species compositional change. Data from a re-survey of 89 coastal sites in Scotland, UK, c. 34 years after the initial survey were examined to assess the degree of change in species composition that could be accounted for by nitrogen deposition. There was an overall increase in the Ellenberg Indicator Value for nitrogen (EIV-N) of 0.15 between the surveys, with a clear shift to species characteristic of more eutrophic situations. This was most evident for Acid grassland, Fixed dune, Heath, Slack and Tall grass mire communities and despite falls in EIV-N for Improved grass, Strand and Wet grassland. The increase in EIV-N was highly correlated to the cumulative deposition between the surveys, and for sites in south-east Scotland, eutrophication impacts appear severe. Unlike other studies, there appears to have been no decline in species richness associated with nitrogen deposition, though losses of species were observed on sites with the very highest levels of SOX deposition. It appears that dune vegetation (specifically Fixed dune) shows evidence of eutrophication above 4.1 kg N ha(-1) yr(-1), or 5.92 kg N ha(-1) yr(-1) if the lower 95% confidence interval is used. Coastal vegetation appears highly sensitive to nitrogen deposition, and it is suggested that major changes could have occurred prior to the first survey in 1976. (C) 2016 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)337-347
Number of pages11
JournalEnvironmental Pollution
Early online date6 Feb 2016
Publication statusPublished - May 2016

Bibliographical note

The resurvey would not have been possible without the many landowners/managers who gave their access permission and the many agency staff and others who facilitated this. It also could not have been done without the hard work of the original survey team and the many people who helped with the resurvey: Joan Beaton, Antonia Eastwood, Julia Fisher, Russell Hooper, Sally Huband, Antoinette Kriel, Jack Lennon, Andrew Nolan, Dave Riach, Dave Sim and Jenni Stockan. The research was funded by the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation (09-3299) and the Scottish Government's Rural and Environment Science and Analytical Services Division (3.4.2).


  • Eutrophication
  • Machair
  • Nitrogen deposition
  • Sand dune
  • Scotland
  • Vegetation change


Dive into the research topics of 'Long-term impacts of nitrogen deposition on coastal plant communities'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this