Although atmospheric nitrogen (N) deposition and climate changes are both recognized as major components of global change, their interaction at ecosystem level is less well understood. A stratified resampling approach was used to investigate the potential impact of changing levels of atmospheric nitrogen deposition and climate change on species composition of nutrient‐poor acid grasslands within the French Atlantic Domain (FAD). The study was based on a comparison, over a period of 25 years, of 162 past and present vegetation records assigned to the species‐rich Nardus grasslands and distributed in regional community types (CTs). Similarly, the characterization of N deposition and climate was stratified according to (i) past (1980–1990) and present (1995–2005) periods, and (ii) FAD and CT scales. Despite the relatively short time span between sampling periods, significant N deposition and climate changes were detected as well as vegetation changes. Correspondence analysis showed that the relative importance of N deposition and climate in explaining vegetation changes depended on the spatial scale of investigation (FAD vs. local CTs) and the CT. At the FAD scale, the increase of annual mean temperature and decrease of water availability were clearly related to the changes in floristic composition. At the local scale, the most stable CT experienced no significant climate change and a stable load of N deposition, whereas the CTs characterized by the largest floristic changes were associated with dramatic climate changes and moderate loads in both oxidized and reduced N deposition. Despite the narrow gradient of deposition investigated, N deposition was related to significant grassland community changes, depending on the region, i.e. climate context, and on whether N deposition was in the oxidized or reduced form. Our results suggest that N deposition drives grassland composition at the local scale, in interaction with climate, whereas climate changes remain the predominant driver at the FAD scale.
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