In Western Europe, arable lands have been abandoned to increase the area of nature, such as Calluna vulgaris–dominated heathlands. However, the growth conditions, e.g., nutrient availability and lack of a phenolics-rich organic layer, on ex-arable sandy soils differ markedly from those of heathland and will favor fast-growing plant species. Succession toward Calluna-dominated heathland is expected to take decades unless intensive restoration management is applied. Here, we report a possible mechanism to explain the occurrence of Calluna patches (0.7–2.0 m diameter) in a 10-year abandoned agricultural field within a dominant vegetation of grasses and forbs. All roots sampled from the Calluna patches were colonized by ericoid mycorrhizal (ERM) and other endomycorrhizal fungi. Both nitrogen mineralization of soil organic N and potential nitrogen mineralization (arginine ammonification) were much lower in soil under Calluna patches than in the rest of the ex-arable soil, although other soil characteristics did not differ. The nitrogen to phosphorus ratio in Calluna shoots was much greater than that in shoots of grasses and forbs, indicating that the latter were more N limited. The results indicate that the association with ERM fungi is probably providing the host competitive superiority for nitrogen even in a soil with low organic matter content. Our results suggest that the conversion from arable land into heathland may be accomplished by the immediate establishment of Calluna seedlings and ERM inoculum when agricultural activities are stopped. This needs to be tested in controlled experiments.
Original languageEnglish
JournalRestoration Ecology
Journal publication date2009

ID: 186158