Too Much of a Limited Nutrient Raises Extinction Risk

Lab Report

By: Ann Northrup

Ann Northrup spent her undergraduate years at the University of Michigan, where she earned a Bachelor of Science in microbiology….

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Phosphate deposits on the earth are few in number and reserves are dwindling. The deposits, present in a handful of countries, have been mined for centuries, used as fertilizer, and account for success of agricultural productivity around the world. Because of the use, and some would say overuse of phosphorus fertilizers, phosphorus-poor ecosystems such as dune valleys, wet grasslands, and peat bogs are becoming more scarce and scattered. Nearly 500 species of plants were surveyed in semi-natural habitats across Eurasia and Siberia to examine the traits of plants in relation to nitrogen and phosphorus limitations. Species adapted to phosphorus limitation do not produce many seeds. They are essentially trapped in the shrinking and isolated habitats as human applied phosphorus encroaches. While other plants flourish with the addition of the limiting nutrient, the competitive advantage is lost.

Nature 505, 82-86