Despite recent advances, we still do not understand how chronic nutrient enrichment impacts coastal plant community structure and function. We aimed to clarify such impacts by testing for differences in ecosystem productivity and multiple community metrics in response to fertilization. We established plots in 2015 consisting of control (C), nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), and nitrogen + phosphorus (NP) treatments in a mid-Atlantic coastal grassland. In 2017 we collected aboveground biomass, functional traits, and species abundance for each plot. Our findings indicate a synergistic co-limitation, such that NP plots were more productive than all other treatments. A combination of traits responsible for competition and nutrient uptake (i.e., height and δ15
N) caused trait-based divergence of N and NP plots from C and P plots. Functional trait-based composition patterns differed from species composition and lifeform abundance patterns, highlighting complexities of community response to nutrient enrichment. While trait-based functional alpha-diversity did not differ among nutrient treatments, it was positively correlated with biomass production, suggesting nutrients may impact functional alpha-diversity indirectly through increased productivity. Increased functional alpha-diversity could be a mechanism of co-existence emerging as productivity increases. These results have important implications for understanding how plant communities in low-productivity coastal systems are altered by fertilization.
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