Responses of forest ecosystems in Europe to decreasing nitrogen deposition
Average nitrogen (N) deposition across Europe has declined since the 1990s. This resulted in decreased N inputs to forest ecosystems especially in Central and Western Europe where deposition levels are highest. While the impact of atmospheric N deposition on forests has been receiving much attention for decades, ecosystem responses to the decline in N inputs received less attention. Here, we review observational studies reporting on trends in a number of indicators: soil acidification and eutrophication, understory vegetation, tree nutrition (foliar element concentrations) as well as tree vitality and growth in response to decreasing N deposition across Europe. Ecosystem responses varied with limited decrease in soil solution nitrate concentrations and potentially also foliar N concentrations. There was no large-scale response in understory vegetation, tree growth, or vitality. Experimental studies support the observation of a more distinct reaction of soil solution and foliar element concentrations to changes in N supply compared to the three other parameters. According to the most likely scenarios, further decrease of N deposition will be limited. We hypothesize that this expected decline will not cause major responses of the parameters analysed in this study. Instead, future changes might be more strongly controlled by the development of N pools accumulated within forest soils, affected by climate change and forest management.