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Providing evidence to improve practice

Action: Add fertilizer to soil (alongside planting/seeding) Shrubland and Heathland Conservation

Key messages

  • A replicated, controlled study in Iceland found that adding fertilizer and sowing seeds increased cover of shrubs and trees in a majority of cases. The same study showed an increase in vegetation cover in two of three cases.
  • One controlled study in the USA found that adding fertilizer increased the biomass of four-wing saltbush in a majority of cases.

Supporting evidence from individual studies

1 

A controlled study in 1972 in a greenhouse in New Mexico, USA (Williams & O'Connor 1973) found that adding fertilizer increased the biomass of four-wing saltbush Atriplex canescens in two of three cases. In two of three cases when fertilizer was added the biomass of four-wing saltbush was higher (149–175 mg) than when fertilizer was not added (73–86 mg). Soil was collected from nearby shrublands and local gardens. Soil from shrublands was used to fill 24 pots and soil from gardens was used in 12 pots. Fertilizer was added to half of the pots while the other half were left unfertilized. One hundred four-wing saltbush seeds/plot were added and these were later thinned so that there were nine plants/pot. After 97 days plants were harvested, dried, and biomass calculated.

2 

A replicated, controlled study in 1954–1999 in three unvegetated areas in Iceland (Gretarsdottir et al. 2004) found that sowing of seeds followed by fertilization increased vegetation cover in two of three cases, increased cover of shrubs and trees in two of three cases, and did not increase the number of plant species. Plant cover was higher in two of three sites where seeds had been sown and fertilizer applied (7–100% cover) than in sites where no seeds were sown or fertilizer applied (1–5% cover). Shrub cover was higher in two of three sites where seeds had been sown and fertilizer applied (0–8% cover) than in sites where no seeds were sown or fertilizer applied (0–1% cover). The number of plant species was significantly lower in one of three sites where seeds had been sown and fertilizer applied (4–8 species) compared to sites where no seeds were sown or fertilizer applied (3–9 species). At one site seeds were sown from airplanes, followed by application of fertilizer between 1954 and 1979 while at the other site this occurred between 1960 and 1975. In 1999 five 100 m2 plots were placed at each site and at nearby areas where no seed was sown and no fertilizer was applied. Ten 0.25 m2 quadrats were placed randomly in each plot and vegetation cover assessed.

Referenced papers

Please cite as:

Martin P.A., Rocha R., Smith R.K. & Sutherland W.J. (2018) Shrubland and Heathland Conservation. Pages 447-494 in: W.J. Sutherland, L.V. Dicks, N. Ockendon, S.O. Petrovan & R.K. Smith (eds) What Works in Conservation 2018. Open Book Publishers, Cambridge, UK.