Global change drivers that modify the quality and quantity of litter inputs to soil affect greenhouse gas fluxes, and thereby constitute a feedback to climate change. Carbon cycling in the Yukon–Kuskokwim (Y–K) River Delta, a subarctic wetland system, is influenced by landscape variations in litter quality and quantity generated by herbivores (migratory birds) that create ‘grazing lawns’ of short stature, nitrogen-rich vegetation. To identify the mechanisms by which these changes in litter inputs affect soil carbon balance, we independently manipulated qualities and quantities of litter representative of levels found in the Y–K Delta in a fully factorial microcosm experiment. We measured CO2fluxes from these microcosms weekly. To help us identify how litter inputs influenced greenhouse gas fluxes, we sequenced soil fungal and bacterial communities, and measured soil microbial biomass carbon, dissolved carbon, inorganic nitrogen, and enzyme activity. We found that positive correlations between litter input quantity and CO2flux were dependent upon litter type, due to differences in litter stoichiometry and changes to the structure of decomposer communities, especially the soil fungi. These community shifts were particularly pronounced when litter was added in the form of herbivore feces, and in litter input treatments that induced nitrogen limitation (i.e., senesced litter). The sensitivity of carbon cycling to litter quality and quantity in this system demonstrates that herbivores can strongly impact greenhouse gas fluxes through their influence on plant growth and tissue chemistry.
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Abstract Graphical abstract
Vertebrate herbivore excrement is thought to influence nutrient cycling, plant nutrition, and growth; however, its importance is rarely isolated from other aspects of herbivory, such as trampling and leaf removal, leaving questions about the extent to which herbivore effects are due to feces. We hypothesized that as a source of additional nutrients, feces would directly increase soil N concentrations and N2O emission, alleviate plant, and microbial nutrient limitations, resulting in increased plant growth and foliar quality, and increase CH4 emissions. We tested these hypotheses using a field experiment in coastal western Alaska,USA, where we manipulated goose feces such that naturally grazed areas received three treatments:feces removal, ambient amounts of feces, or double ambient amounts of feces. Doubling feces marginally increased NH4 +-N in soil water, whereas both doubled feces and feces removal significantly increased NO3--N; N2O flux was also higher in removal plots. Feces removal marginally reduced root biomass and significantly reduced productivity (that is, GPP) in the second year, measured as greater CO2 emissions. Doubling feces marginally increased foliar chemical quality by increasing %N and decreasing C:N. Treatments did not influence CH4 flux. In short, feces removal created sites poorer in nutrients, with reduced root growth, graminoid nutrient uptake, and productivity. While goose feces alone did not create dramatic changes in nutrient cycling in western Alaska, they do appear to be an important source of nutrients for grazed areas and to contribute to greenhouse gas exchange as their removal increased emissions of CO2 and N2O to the atmosphere.more » « less
null (Ed.)Herbivory can have strong impacts on greenhouse gas fluxes in high-latitude ecosystems. For example, in the Yukon-Kuskokwim (Y-K) Delta in western Alaska, migratory goose grazing affects the magnitude of soil carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane (CH4) fluxes. However, the underlying drivers of this relationship are unclear, as few studies systematically tease apart the processes by which herbivores influences soil biogeochemistry. To examine these mechanisms in detail, we conducted a laboratory incubation experiment to quantify changes in greenhouse gas fluxes in response to three parameters altered by herbivores in situ: temperature, soil moisture content, and nutrient inputs. These treatments were applied to soils collected in grazing lawns and nearby ungrazed habitat, allowing us to assess how variation in microbial community structure influenced observed responses. We found pronounced differences in both fungal and prokaryotic community composition between grazed and ungrazed areas. In the laboratory incubation experiment, CO2 and CH4 fluxes increased with temperature, soil moisture, and goose fecal addition, suggesting that grazing-related changes in the soil abiotic environment may enhance soil C losses. Yet, these abiotic drivers were insufficient to explain variation in fluxes between soils with and without prior grazing. Differences in trace gas fluxes between grazed and ungrazed areas may result both from herbivore-induced shifts in abiotic parameters and grazing-related alterations in microbial community structure. Our findings suggest that relationships among herbivores and soil microbial communities could mediate carbon-climate feedbacks in rapidly changing high-latitude ecosystems.more » « less
Understanding the sensitivity and magnitude of plant community responses in tundra wetlands to herbivory and warming is pressing as these ecosystems are increasingly threatened by changes in grazing pressure and higher temperatures. Here, we ask to what extent different low‐Arctic coastal wetland plant communities are affected by short‐term goose grazing and warming, and whether these communities differ in their responses.
Yukon–Kuskokwim Delta, Alaska.
We conducted an experiment where we simulated goose grazing by clipping the vegetation and summer warming by using open‐top chambers in three plant communities along a 6‐km coastal–inland gradient. We assessed plant community compositional changes following two years of treatments.
Grazing had stronger effects than warming on both plant functional group and species composition. Overall, grazing decreased the abundance of grasses and sedges and increased the abundance of forbs, whereas warming only caused a decrease in forb abundance. However, plant communities and functional groups, both within and across communities, varied widely in their responses to treatments. Grazing decreased grass abundance (−25%) and increased forb abundance (+44%) in the two more coastal communities, and reduced sedge abundance (−22%) only in the most inland community. Warming only decreased forb abundance (−18%) in the most coastal community, which overall was the most responsive to treatments.
We show that short‐term goose grazing predominates over short‐term summer warming in eliciting compositional changes in three different low‐Arctic coastal wetland plant communities. Yet, responses varied among communities and the same functional groups could respond differently across them, highlighting the importance of investigating the effects of biotic and abiotic drivers in different contexts. By showing that tundra wetland plant communities can differ in their immediate sensitivity to goose grazing and, though to a lesser extent, warming, our findings have implications for the functioning of these rapidly changing high‐latitude ecosystems.
Insectivorous vertebrates, especially on islands, can exert top‐down control on herbivorous prey, which can transfer through a food chain to reduce herbivory. However, in many systems insectivorous vertebrates feed on more than one trophic level, especially consuming arthropod predators, and this intraguild predation can diminish trophic cascades. Our goal was to determine, using an exclosure experiment, the relative importance of anole lizards and coqui frogs in controlling spider and arthropod abundances as well as herbivory rates in the understory of the Luquillo Experimental Forest, Puerto Rico. We found that exclosures removing both anoles and coquis doubled spider abundance compared to exclosures with anoles and coquis at natural densities. The effect of coquis on spiders was greater and occurred more quickly than that of anoles, potentially because of the higher natural densities of coquis and removal of both vertebrates produced no interactive effects. We found support for the idea that anoles, but not coquis, reduce foliar arthropod abundances on one of the two studied plant species. However, there was also evidence that anole removal decreased herbivory, the opposite of what we would expect if there was a trophic cascade. Potential explanations include that anoles reduced predatory arthropods on foliage more than they reduced herbivorous arthropods. Results highlight that the food web in tabonuco forest is not simple and that there are complex and dynamic relationships among vertebrate insectivores, predatory arthropods, and herbivorous arthropods that do not consistently result in a trophic cascade.
Abstract in Spanish is available with online material
Rapid warming in northern ecosystems over the past four decades has resulted in earlier spring, increased precipitation, and altered timing of plant–animal interactions, such as herbivory. Advanced spring phenology can lead to longer growing seasons and increased carbon (C) uptake. Greater precipitation coincides with greater cloud cover possibly suppressing photosynthesis. Timing of herbivory relative to spring phenology influences plant biomass. None of these changes are mutually exclusive and their interactions could lead to unexpected consequences for Arctic ecosystem function. We examined the influence of advanced spring phenology, cloud cover, and timing of grazing on C exchange in the Yukon–Kuskokwim Delta of western Alaska for three years. We combined advancement of the growing season using passive-warming open-top chambers (OTC) with controlled timing of goose grazing (early, typical, and late season) and removal of grazing. We also monitored natural variation in incident sunlight to examine the C exchange consequences of these interacting forcings. We monitored net ecosystem exchange of C (NEE) hourly using an autochamber system. Data were used to construct daily light curves for each experimental plot and sunlight data coupled with a clear-sky model was used to quantify daily and seasonal NEE over a range of incident sunlight conditions. Cloudy days resulted in the largest suppression of NEE, reducing C uptake by approximately 2 g C m−2d−1regardless of the timing of the season or timing of grazing. Delaying grazing enhanced C uptake by approximately 3 g C m−2d−1. Advancing spring phenology reduced C uptake by approximately 1.5 g C m−2d−1, but only when plots were directly warmed by the OTCs; spring advancement did not have a long-term influence on NEE. Consequently, the two strongest drivers of NEE, cloud cover and grazing, can have opposing effects and thus future growing season NEE will depend on the magnitude of change in timing of grazing and incident sunlight.
Sex-related differences in mortality are widespread in the animal kingdom. Although studies have shown that sex determination systems might drive lifespan evolution, sex chromosome influence on aging rates have not been investigated so far, likely due to an apparent lack of demographic data from clades including both XY (with heterogametic males) and ZW (heterogametic females) systems. Taking advantage of a unique collection of capture–recapture datasets in amphibians, a vertebrate group where XY and ZW systems have repeatedly evolved over the past 200 million years, we examined whether sex heterogamy can predict sex differences in aging rates and lifespans. We showed that the strength and direction of sex differences in aging rates (and not lifespan) differ between XY and ZW systems. Sex-specific variation in aging rates was moderate within each system, but aging rates tended to be consistently higher in the heterogametic sex. This led to small but detectable effects of sex chromosome system on sex differences in aging rates in our models. Although preliminary, our results suggest that exposed recessive deleterious mutations on the X/Z chromosome (the “unguarded X/Z effect”) or repeat-rich Y/W chromosome (the “toxic Y/W effect”) could accelerate aging in the heterogametic sex in some vertebrate clades.more » « less