Herbivores and nutrients control grassland plant diversity via light limitation

Borer, Elizabeth
Biederman, Lori
Seabloom, Eric
Gruner, Daniel
Harpole, W. Stanley
Hillebrand, Helmut
Lind, Eric
Adler, Peter
Alberti, Juan
Anderson, T. Michael
Bakker, Jonathan
Biederman, Lori
Blumenthal, Dana
Brown, Cynthia
Brudvig, Lars
Buckley, Yvonne
Cadotte, Marc
Chu, Chengjin
Cleland, Elsa
Crawley, Michael
Daleo, Pedro
Damschen, Ellen
Davies, Kendi
DeCrappeo, Nicole
Du, Guozhen
Firn, Jennifer
Hautier, Yann
Heckman, Robert
Hector, Andy
HilleRisLambers, Janneke
Iribarne, Oscar
Klein, Julia
Knops, Johannes
La Pierre, Kimberly
Leakey, Andrew
Li, Wei
MacDougall, Andrew
McCulley, Rebecca
Melbourne, Brett
Mitchell, Charles
Moore, Joslin
Mortensen, Brent
O'Halloran, Lydia
Orrock, John
Pascual, Jesus
Prober, Suzanne
Pyke, David
Risch, Anita
Schuetz, Martin
Smith, Melinda
Stevens, Carly
Sullivan, Lauren
Williams, Ryan
Wragg, Peter
Wright, Justin
Yang, Louie
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Ecology, Evolution and Organismal Biology

Human alterations to nutrient cycles1, 2 and herbivore communities3, 4, 5, 6, 7 are affecting global biodiversity dramatically2. Ecological theory predicts these changes should be strongly counteractive: nutrient addition drives plant species loss through intensified competition for light, whereas herbivores prevent competitive exclusion by increasing ground-level light, particularly in productive systems8, 9. Here we use experimental data spanning a globally relevant range of conditions to test the hypothesis that herbaceous plant species losses caused by eutrophication may be offset by increased light availability due to herbivory. This experiment, replicated in 40 grasslands on 6 continents, demonstrates that nutrients and herbivores can serve as counteracting forces to control local plant diversity through light limitation, independent of site productivity, soil nitrogen, herbivore type and climate. Nutrient addition consistently reduced local diversity through light limitation, and herbivory rescued diversity at sites where it alleviated light limitation. Thus, species loss from anthropogenic eutrophication can be ameliorated in grasslands where herbivory increases ground-level light.


This article is from Nature 508 (2014): 517, doi:10.1038/nature13144.