International audienceNitrogen (N) availability in grasslands varies with agricultural land use. Traditional management regimes of mowing for hay and manuring in subalpine meadows maintain plant communities with exploitative functional strategies suited to fertile soils with fast turnover of nutrients. We investigated whether the neglect of traditional practices has led to a reduction in N availability in two parallel ecosystems (terraced and unterraced fields). Soil nitrate and ammonium contents were assessed using soil cores and ion exchange resins over a 1-year period, and assays of microbial nitrifying and denitrifying enzyme activities, made early in the growing season. A large difference in pH between the two ecosystems, caused by historical ploughing, facilitated greater N availability in terraced than unterraced fields. Abandonment of manuring and mowing caused a reduction in N availability and N transformation processes, which correlated with a shift in the plant community towards more-conservative functional strategies and greater dominance by grasses. We propose that positive feedback between the grassland management regime and dominant plant functional strategy maintained high N availability in these managed subalpine grasslands. When traditional practices of mowing and manuring are neglected, direct management effects combined with the spread of grass species with conservative strategies force down N availability in the soil, reduce microbial activity, change the pH, and lead to a long-term loss of characteristic herbaceous subalpine-meadow species
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