These plants and animals are in a danger zone due to nitrogen emissions

A large excess of nitrogen threatens the survival of the species. And it’s not just protected and vulnerable plants and animals that struggle. Four examples.

Uno Havermans

Sunday, May 22 is the International Day for Biological Diversity. There is not much to celebrate. Worldwide, one million out of eight million species are at risk of extinction. Ipbes, the United Nations platform for biodiversity and ecosystem services, warned of this three years ago.

Nitrogen is the biggest problem in the Netherlands. Part of the housing and road construction has stopped because permits are against nature’s interests. Thirty years ago this concern was laid out in the European Habitat Directive. It allows almost everything in our dealings with nature, except regression. Here’s where things go wrong.

To get out of the nitrogen crisis, increasingly stringent measures are needed. The Habitat Orientation aims to achieve a “favorable conservation status” for key species in protected areas. Thus nature conservation became a matter of legal obligations.

nature on drip

With a hole in the ozone layer and acid rain, the disaster can be avoided by reducing the emission of harmful substances. But nitrogen emissions are so intertwined with the economy and food supply that any solution hurts.

Politicians prefer a solution via the Boulder model. But it is difficult to negotiate with animals and plants. And nature can not be captured in protected areas.

Instead of tackling the source, the focus is on repairing what the pollution has destroyed. This puts nature in its place. Vulnerable species such as algae, amphibians and meadow birds have become live dead. If we stop caring, it immediately disappears.

Nitrogen is also a problem outside nature reserves. Not only are protected and endangered species, such as the green-necked lizard or ruff, but generic species such as the Skylark or hare suffer significant losses, shows SpeciesNL, a knowledge network for plants and wild animals in the Netherlands. In the “Sluipkiller Nitrogen” series on Nature Today. We highlight four examples.


In thirty years, the number of butterflies in the Netherlands has halved.

With coarse grass, blue and green disappear

White cabbage, chopped aurea, lemon moth, sand variety and a few other common butterflies will do well. They are the centers of power among butterflies, which adapt to conditions and can also tolerate an excess of nitrogen.

The blue and green butterflies and mother-of-pearl are being suppressed. Species that live in poorer areas such as dunes, desert lands, and high swamps are much more affected by high nitrogen emissions, which increase the acidity of their habitats, causing coarse weeds to displace the weeds that are the host plant or food source. More than half of the butterflies live here.

In addition to dunes and quicksands, flower-rich grasslands, which are more nutrient-rich, also grow due to tall grasses, coarse weeds, and berries. With the disappearance of butterflies that occur here as a sad consequence.

In thirty years, the number of butterflies in the Netherlands has halved. The Habitat Directive was adopted in 1992, based on which species are protected in the so-called Natura 2000 areas. But insects are not among the species identified as indicators of the state of nature. Butterflies are hardly relevant in politics, there are only three species on the lists.

While the mass disappearance of insects is the beginning of a complete collapse of the ecosystem: bees and hovercraft are important pollinators, mosquitoes, larvae and beetles are food for birds and small mammals. With them, the bottom disappears under the order.

The weak peer is having a hard time due to the excess of loan loans.  picture

The weak peer is having a hard time due to the excess of loan loans.picture

Sundu, moss and orchid can’t compete with blackberry

Not only do blackberries, nettles, and herbs benefit from an excess of nitrogen, a plant like garlic without garlic, from the final family, also works well. The problem: Sharks and nitrogen fans crowd out other plants.

Arid herbaceous plants such as sand dunes and raised swamps grow densely because there is plenty of food. This affects the most vulnerable plants, such as butterflies and other insects, reptiles, birds and even mammals such as rabbits, which graze on short grass and starve if the blades grow too large.

Poverty of food in nature means richness of species. Plants are encouraged to find food in creative ways, such as sundries that capture and digest insects with their sticky claws, algae clinging to rocks and orchids that attract insects with their lush shapes and colours. The wealth of strategies in places where there is not much food available is unprecedented. If there is a lot of food, the species that rely on these strategies disappear.

Plants need nitrogen, it promotes the growth and production of chlorophyll necessary for photosynthesis, where the plant converts carbon dioxide (CO2) into glucose and oxygen with the help of sunlight. But a lot is not a good thing. Just as eating a lot of french fries is not good for humans, high nitrogen emissions are not good for nature, who overeats them. Nature is fat.

There is no food or place to hide for the weasel and the bunny

Many mammals do well. A lot of pigs and deer also eat their stomachs on plants that grow profusely thanks to the rich supply of nitrogen. They are again food for the wolf, who returned to Holland after a century and a half.

Fallen deer also do so well that there are actually many of them in the dune area. The fallow deer used to live in larger groups on wide plains, but in the dunes it quickly becomes very full, so a slope is essential. This is not of much use, because deer always provide new growth.

The same goes for foxes. Despite the chase, they are more and more widespread throughout the Netherlands. As well as the beaver that became extinct in Holland at the beginning of the nineteenth century. Since its reintroduction in 1988, beavers have been doing so well that waterboards in Brabant and Limburg are allowed to shoot animals that make dams unstable while digging.

The under-performing mammals are the species found in rural areas where small farmland has been transformed into a landscape for industrial farming since land standardization.

Ermine, weasel, polecat and hare can no longer hide in hedges and clumps of trees, and with the monotony of ryegrass, their food also disappears from mice, rats, bird eggs and weeds. Eleven of the sixteen species on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Mammals are associated with the agricultural region.

Therefore there is an urgent need for farmers and other managers of remote areas to manage nature.

Mushrooms are good ecological indicators.  Colorbox picture

Mushrooms are good ecological indicators.Colorbox picture

Mushrooms, wonderful conductors, rise up and down

Mushrooms are misunderstood. As conductors, they play an important role in biodiversity through their subterranean networks of fungal hyphae, with which they transport and exchange minerals with plants. And the so-called mycorrhizal fungi species, which live in symbiosis with trees, provide enough information about the effects of the nitrogen approach, according to statistics from the Dutch Mycological Society’s Mushroom Monitoring Network. Many species of mycorrhizal fungi have experienced decline since the last century, but showed a remarkable recovery from 1994 that lasted about fifteen years.

At that time, nitrogen emissions decreased, mainly due to measures in agriculture. The numbers have been decreasing again for about thirteen years, according to the Mushroom Federation because the drop in nitrogen emissions has stagnated, ammonia emissions have increased and due to several very dry years.

Nitrogen-sensitive mushrooms are particularly affected, especially in the south of the country, where nitrogen emissions are higher than elsewhere.

Therefore mushrooms, particularly the 36 nitrogen-sensitive species, are good ecological indicators. The fly gargoyle, common pig’s ear and wrinkled garland show how nature goes. But the data from the monitoring network is rarely used outside the association. While these great connections are functional, the mushroom story hasn’t really been listened to.

Read also:

How Nature Lost Its Soul Through Regulation (and We Can Bring It Back)

An animal adapts seeing its living environment change. But the man, writes Sander Turnhout, thinks: let the living environment adapt. The result is drought, floods, hunger and death because nature cannot manage it. What happens when we encounter it?

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