Nutrient enrichment is a threat to botanical diversity in Europe, and its assessment is part of biodiversity monitoring schemes. In Switzerland, this is done by calculating the average nutrient (N) indicator value of the vegetation based on a country-wide systematic vegetation survey. However, it is questionable whether N values indicate eutrophication and resulting species loss equally well across an entire country, which includes wide topographic gradients and distinct biogeographic regions. Here we analyze vascular plant species lists from 415 grassland plots (10 m2) between 365 and 2770 m.a.s.l. throughout Switzerland to investigate how the relationship between N value and species richness differs with altitude and among regions. The N value strongly decreased with altitude (piecewise regression: r2 = 0.77), particularly between 800 and 2000 m a.s.l., where this decrease was related to a decreasing proportion of fertilized grasslands. In the alpine belt, lower N values were associated with a greater frequency of acidic soils and a restricted species pool. Vascular plant species richness was maximal at intermediate altitude (piecewise regression: r2 = 0.33) and intermediate N value (polynomial regression: r2 = 0.46). When analyzed separately by altitudinal belt, the relationship between species richness and N value was negative in the lowlands and montane belt but unimodal in the subalpine belt. In the alpine belt, soil pH (R indicator values) explained most of the variation in species richness. Two indices of between-plot diversity (floristic dissimilarity and the contribution of individual plots to total species richness) were negatively related to N values from the lowlands to the subalpine belt but not in the alpine belt. All relationships differed little among the biogeographic regions of Switzerland, but they might be modified by changes in management and by the expansion of common lowland species into mountain grasslands.

Güsewell, S., Peter, M., & Birrer, S. (2012). Altitude modifies species richness–nutrient indicator value relationships in a country-wide survey of grassland vegetation. Ecological Indicators, 20, 134–142.