Herbivores and nutrients control grassland plant diversity via light limitation

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Human alterations to nutrient cycles and herbivore communities are affecting global biodiversity dramatically. 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 systems. 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.

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Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Herbivores and nutrients control grassland plant diversity via light limitation
Series title Nature
DOI 10.1038/nature13144
Volume 508
Year Published 2014
Language English
Publisher Macmillan Journals Ltd.
Contributing office(s) Forest and Rangeland Ecosystem Science Center, Contaminant Biology Program
Description 4 p.
First page 517
Last page 520
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