Lauri Laanisto discusses their recent Commentary, Fertilising semi‐natural grasslands may cause long‐term negative effects on both biodiversity and ecosystem stability.

Community ecology was once famously described as ‘collecting stamps’ by John Lawton, as every community is so different and unique in so many ways. Therefore, instead of making generalisations, one can only study unique communities the way a collector studies their unique collection – a very post-truth-style statement from 20 years ago! However, Lawton was merely being provocative, and he actually suggests that there are indeed general laws in ecology – widespread, repeatable patterns, although not universally true in all cases.

Through the enormous bulk of ecological literature, it is very difficult to pinpoint these laws. Most of us, when publishing new results, tend to focus on the validity of the results and formulate found patterns as more or less general rules that might indeed hold unless specifically tested in other scales and places. As a result, there are a number of contradictory ideas and concepts floating around in ecological literature. Everything seems contingent.

So, sometimes little bubbles form in science, where some fundamentals have gone missing, or are discarded for some reason. The impulse to discard fundamentals might come, not from the theoretical thinking itself, but from something outside of it. For example, waste from agriculture and biotechnology, which needs to be offloaded somewhere and preferably cheaply. Combine it with the ‘balance of nature’ concept that is known not to work in ecological systems, and it might as well culminate in ‘let’s give back to nature’ type-thinking, which can result in spreading slurry in grasslands, or at its worst, a cynical approach to waste management

Our Commentary addresses several studies that have sought ways to get rid of waste by giving it back to where it originally came from – grasslands. Specifically, recent publications have recommended fertilising semi-natural temperate grasslands with nutrient residues like digestate and slurry. These studies claim that fertilising grasslands increases productivity but has no negative effect on species richness. We highlight three aspects that should be considered before fertilising diverse grassland communities, which are based on fundamental ecological knowledge and long-term experiments. Everything is not necessarily contingent after all …

Read the full article, Fertilising semi‐natural grasslands may cause long‐term negative effects on both biodiversity and ecosystem stability in Journal of Applied Ecology.