Vegetation and soils were sampled in 22 old fields ranging in age from 1 to 56 yr since abandonment. Soil nitrogen concentration increased significantly with field age. Vegetation cover, total aboveground plant biomass, and litter cover increased significantly with soil nitrogen. Light penetration to the soil surface was negatively correlated with total plant biomass. Field age and soil nitrogen concentration were used as independent variables in simple regression and partial correlation analyses to determine the relative importance of such time—dependent processes as dispersals vs. the availability of a limiting resource (nitrogen) as predictors of patterns in species richness or the abundance of various plant groups. Species richness per field and within—field heterogeneity in species composition increased with field age. Local species richness decreased with increasing soil nitrogen. Cover of annuals and introduced species decreased with field age and nitrogen; however, annuals contributed an important part of total vegetative cover even n 25—yr—old fields. Cover of perennials and woody species increased with soil nitrogen and field age. Although the fields were bordered by woods, woody species contributed @<15% cover even in the oldest fields. For several plant groups the relationship between cover and soil nitrogen within individual fields was the opposite of that among all fields. These patterns suggest that while soil nitrogen is an important determinant of local species composition and abundance, dispersal and colonization, which are dependent on field age, determine which species are present in a field.
Inouye RS, Huntly NJ, Tilman D, Tester JR, Stillwell M, Zinnel KC. 1987. Old-field succession on a Minnesota sand plain. Ecology 68:12-26