Grasslands are subject to considerable alteration due to human activities globally, including widespread changes in populations and composition of large mammalian herbivores and elevated supply of nutrients. Grassland soils remain important reservoirs of carbon (C) and nitrogen (N). Herbivores may affect both C and N pools and these changes likely interact with increases in soil nutrient availability. Given the scale of grassland soil fluxes, such changes can have striking consequences for atmospheric C concentrations and the climate. Here, we use the Nutrient Network experiment to examine the responses of soil C and N pools to mammalian herbivore exclusion across 22 grasslands, under ambient and elevated nutrient availabilities (fertilized with NPK + micronutrients). We show that the impact of herbivore exclusion on soil C and N pools depends on fertilization. Under ambient nutrient conditions, we observed no effect of herbivore exclusion, but under elevated nutrient supply, pools are smaller upon herbivore exclusion. The highest mean soil C and N pools were found in grazed and fertilized plots. The decrease in soil C and N upon herbivore exclusion in combination with fertilization correlated with a decrease in aboveground plant biomass and microbial activity, indicating a reduced storage of organic matter and microbial residues as soil C and N. The response of soil C and N pools to herbivore exclusion was contingent on temperature – herbivores likely cause losses of C and N in colder sites and increases in warmer sites. Additionally, grasslands that contain mammalian herbivores have the potential to sequester more N under increased temperature variability and nutrient enrichment than ungrazed grasslands. Our study highlights the importance of conserving mammalian herbivore populations in grasslands worldwide. We need to incorporate local‐scale herbivory, and its interaction with nutrient enrichment and climate, within global‐scale models to better predict land–atmosphere interactions under future climate change.
Increased nutrient inputs due to anthropogenic activity are expected to increase primary productivity across terrestrial ecosystems, but changes in allocation aboveground versus belowground with nutrient addition have different implications for soil carbon (C) storage. Thus, given that roots are major contributors to soil C storage, understanding belowground net primary productivity (BNPP) and biomass responses to changes in nutrient availability is essential to predicting carbon–climate feedbacks in the context of interacting global environmental changes. To address this knowledge gap, we tested whether a decade of nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P) fertilization consistently influenced aboveground and belowground biomass and productivity at nine grassland sites spanning a wide range of climatic and edaphic conditions in the continental United States. Fertilization effects were strong aboveground, with both N and P addition stimulating aboveground biomass at nearly all sites (by 30% and 36%, respectively, on average). P addition consistently increased root production (by 15% on average), whereas other belowground responses to fertilization were more variable, ranging from positive to negative across sites. Site‐specific responses to P were not predicted by the measured covariates. Atmospheric N deposition mediated the effect of N fertilization on root biomass and turnover. Specifically, atmospheric N deposition was positively correlated with root turnover rates, and this relationship was amplified with N addition. Nitrogen addition increased root biomass at sites with low N deposition but decreased it at sites with high N deposition. Overall, these results suggest that the effects of nutrient supply on belowground plant properties are context dependent, particularly with regard to background N supply rates, demonstrating that site conditions must be considered when predicting how grassland ecosystems will respond to increased nutrient loading from anthropogenic activity.more » « less
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- Wiley Blackwell (John Wiley & Sons)
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- Medium: X
- Sponsoring Org:
- National Science Foundation
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