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  1. Abstract Plant productivity varies due to environmental heterogeneity, and theory suggests that plant diversity can reduce this variation. While there is strong evidence of diversity effects on temporal variability of productivity, whether this mechanism extends to variability across space remains elusive. Here we determine the relationship between plant diversity and spatial variability of productivity in 83 grasslands, and quantify the effect of experimentally increased spatial heterogeneity in environmental conditions on this relationship. We found that communities with higher plant species richness (alpha and gamma diversity) have lower spatial variability of productivity as reduced abundance of some species can be compensated for by increased abundance of other species. In contrast, high species dissimilarity among local communities (beta diversity) is positively associated with spatial variability of productivity, suggesting that changes in species composition can scale up to affect productivity. Experimentally increased spatial environmental heterogeneity weakens the effect of plant alpha and gamma diversity, and reveals that beta diversity can simultaneously decrease and increase spatial variability of productivity. Our findings unveil the generality of the diversity-stability theory across space, and suggest that reduced local diversity and biotic homogenization can affect the spatial reliability of key ecosystem functions. 
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    Free, publicly-accessible full text available December 1, 2024
  2. Abstract

    Ecological restoration is beneficial to ecological communities in this era of large‐scale landscape change and ecological disruption. However, restoration outcomes are notoriously variable, which makes fine‐scale decision‐making challenging. This is true for restoration efforts that follow large fires, which are increasingly common as the climate changes.

    Post‐fire restoration efforts, like tree planting and seeding have shown mixed success, though the causes of the variation in restoration outcomes remain unclear. Abiotic factors such as elevation and fire severity, as well as biotic factors, such as residual canopy cover and abundance of competitive understorey grasses, can vary across a burned area and may all influence the success of restoration efforts to re‐establish trees following forest fires.

    We examined the effect of these factors on the early seedling establishment of a tree species—māmane (Sophora chrysophylla)—in a subtropical montane woodland in Hawaiʻi. Following a human‐caused wildfire, we sowed seeds of māmane as part of a restoration effort. We co‐designed a project to examine māmane seedling establishment.

    We found that elevation was of overriding importance, structuring total levels of plant establishment, with fewer seedlings establishing at higher elevations. Residual canopy cover was positively correlated with seedling establishment, while cover by invasive, competitive understorey grasses very weakly positively correlated with increased seedling establishment.

    Our results point to specific factors structuring plant establishment following a large fire and suggest additional targeted restoration actions within this subtropical system. For example, if greater native woody recruitment is a management goal, then actions could include targeted seed placement at lower elevations where establishment is more likely, increased seeding densities at high elevation where recruitment rates are lower, and/or invasive grass removal prior to seeding. Such actions may result in faster native ecosystem recovery, which is a goal of local land managers.

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  3. Abstract Context

    Habitat fragmentation is a leading threat to biodiversity, yet the impacts of fragmentation on most taxa, let alone interactions among those taxa, remain largely unknown.


    We studied how three consequences of fragmentation—reduced patch connectivity, altered patch shape, and edge proximity—impact plant-dwelling mite communities and mite-plant-fungus interactions within a large-scale habitat fragmentation experiment.


    We sampled mite communities from the leaves ofQuercus nigra(a plant species that has foliar domatia which harbor fungivorous and predacious mites) near and far from edge within fragments of varying edge-to-area ratio (shape) and connectivity via corridors. We also performed a mite-exclusion experiment across these fragmentation treatments to test the effects of mite presence and fungal hyphal abundance on leaf surfaces.


    Habitat edges influenced the abundance and richness of leaf-dwelling mites; plants closer to the edge had higher mite abundance and species richness. Likewise, hyphal counts were higher on leaves near patch edges. Despite both mite and fungal abundance being higher at patch edges, leaf hyphal counts were not impacted by mite abundance on those leaves. Neither patch shape nor connectivity influenced mite abundance, mite species richness, or the influence of mites on leaf surface fungal abundance.


    Our results suggest that mites and foliar fungi may be independently affected by edge-structured environmental gradients, like temperature, rather than trophic effects. We demonstrate that large-scale habitat fragmentation and particularly edge effects can have impacts on multiple levels of microscopic communities, even in the absence of cascading trophic effects.

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  4. Abstract

    During the “decade on restoration,” we must understand how to reliably re‐establish native plant populations. When establishing populations through seed addition, practitioners often prioritize obtaining seed from locations geographically near the restoration site (i.e. “local seed sourcing”). They are assumed to be under similar environmental conditions to the restoration site and should establish more robust plant populations and preserve local biotic interactions better than seeds sourced from further away. However, this assumption remains virtually untested in realistic restoration settings and the importance of seed sourcing, relative to other factors such as seeding rate and management regimes, is unclear.

    To determine if seed sourcing decision impacts plant establishment, abundance and phenology, we developed a partnership between university‐researchers and a native seed producer that kept records on where their seed was sourced from and where it was planted. At each site, we recorded the abundance and phenological stage of five commonly used tallgrass prairie restoration species seeded at 24 sites undergoing restoration across Michigan. We considered two measures of seed source locality: geographic distance (seeds were sourced from locations 6–750 km away from their respective restoration sites) and environmental distance. We also obtained data on the seeding rate and post‐seeding management at each site.

    We found that no measure of seed source locality predicted the likelihood of plant establishment or abundance at restoration sites. However, sites sown with seed from further away, or from cooler and wetter climates, had a greater proportion of flowering individuals earlier in the season. Finally, sites with higher seeding rates had greater plant abundance, and post‐seeding management of the restoration site increased the likelihood a species would establish by 36%.

    Overall, these results support that seed sourcing decisions did not impact plant establishment or abundance in our system. However, using less‐local seed sources may alter flowering phenology.

    Our results suggest that tallgrass prairie restoration efforts should prioritize higher seeding rates, post‐seeding management, and might expand the region seed sources are considered “local”, though this may impact flowering phenology. Future research leveraging native seed producer records can help answer critical questions about restoration seed sourcing.

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  5. Abstract

    Although plant–soil feedbacks (interactions between plants and soils, often mediated by soil microbes, abbreviated as PSFs) are widely known to influence patterns of plant diversity at local and landscape scales, these interactions are rarely examined in the context of important environmental factors. Resolving the roles of environmental factors is important because the environmental context may alter PSF patterns by modifying the strength or even direction of PSFs for certain species. One important environmental factor that is increasing in scale and frequency with climate change is fire, though the influence of fire on PSFs remains essentially unexamined. By changing microbial community composition, fire may alter the microbes available to colonize the roots of plants and thus seedling growth post‐fire. This has potential to change the strength and/or direction of PSFs, depending on how such changes in microbial community composition occur and the plant species with which the microbes interact. We examined how a recent fire altered PSFs of two leguminous, nitrogen‐fixing tree species in Hawaiʻi. For both species, growing in conspecific soil resulted in higher plant performance (as measured by biomass production) than growing in heterospecific soil. This pattern was mediated by nodule formation, an important process for growth for legume species. Fire weakened PSFs for these species and therefore pairwise PSFs, which were significant in unburned soils, but were nonsignificant in burned soils. Theory suggests that positive PSFs such as those found in unburned sites would reinforce the dominance of species where they are locally dominant. The change in pairwise PSFs with burn status shows PSF‐mediated dominance might diminish after fire. Our results demonstrate that fire can modify PSFs by weakening the legume‐rhizobia symbiosis, which may alter local competitive dynamics between two canopy dominant tree species. These findings illustrate the importance of considering environmental context when evaluating the role of PSFs for plants.

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  6. Abstract

    Relationships between biodiversity and ecosystem functioning depend on the processes structuring community assembly. However, predicting biodiversity‐ecosystem functioning (BEF) relationships based on community assembly remains challenging because assembly outcomes are often contingent on history and the consequences of history for ecosystem functions are poorly understood. In a grassland restoration experiment, we isolated the role of history for the relationships between plant biodiversity and multiple ecosystem functions by initiating assembly in three different years, while controlling for all other aspects of community assembly. We found that two aspects of assembly history—establishment year and succession—altered species and trait community trajectories, which in turn altered net primary productivity, decomposition rates, and floral resources. Moreover, history altered BEF relationships (which ranged from positive to negative), both within and across functions, by modifying the causal pathways linking species identity, traits, diversity, and ecosystem functions. Our results show that the interplay of deterministic succession and environmental stochasticity during establishment mediate historical contingencies that cause variation in biodiversity and ecosystem functions, even under otherwise identical assembly conditions. An explicit attention to history is needed to understand why biodiversity‐ecosystem function relationships vary in natural ecosystems: a critical question at the intersection of fundamental theory and applications to environmental change biology and ecosystem restoration.

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  7. Recovering biodiversity is a common goal of restoration, yet outcomes for animal communities are highly variable. A major reason for this variability may be that active restoration efforts typically target plant communities, with the assumption that animal communities will passively recover in turn. However, this assumption remains largely unvalidated experimentally making it unclear how plant‐focused restoration strategies influence animal communities. We evaluated how the diversity of seed mixes used to restore tallgrass prairies (a common plant‐focused technique) influenced the recovery of ant community diversity and composition. Our study took place within a large‐scale restoration experiment in southwest Michigan, where 12 former agricultural fields are being restored to tallgrass prairie by sowing seeds of prairie plant species native to our region. Half of each field was seeded with 12 prairie species and the other half with 72 prairie species. Sites restored with high diversity seed mixes increased plant species richness, but did not consistently influence ant richness or community composition. Instead, ant species richness and composition were related to an interaction between realized plant species richness (which was only partly structured by seeding treatments) and environmental structure. Specifically, ant richness increased more with higher realized plant richness when vegetation cover was lower and soil‐surface temperatures were higher. Our findings illustrate how plant and animal communities can respond differently to plant‐focused restoration efforts. Despite this, plant community restoration can structure animal community responses, in concert with environmental factors. Layering additional restoration strategies onto existing plant‐focused approaches may further benefit biodiversity across taxa.

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  8. Global change drivers, such as anthropogenic nutrient inputs, are increasing globally. Nutrient deposition simultaneously alters plant biodiversity, species composition and ecosystem processes like aboveground biomass production. These changes are underpinned by species extinction, colonisation and shifting relative abundance. Here, we use the Price equation to quantify and link the contributions of species that are lost, gained or that persist to change in aboveground biomass in 59 experimental grassland sites. Under ambient (control) conditions, compositional and biomass turnover was high, and losses (i.e. local extinctions) were balanced by gains (i.e. colonisation). Under fertilisation, the decline in species richness resulted from increased species loss and decreases in species gained. Biomass increase under fertilisation resulted mostly from species that persist and to a lesser extent from species gained. Drivers of ecological change can interact relatively independently with diversity, composition and ecosystem processes and functions such as aboveground biomass due to the individual contributions of species lost, gained or persisting. 
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  9. Abstract

    Ecological restoration — the rebuilding of damaged or destroyed ecosystems — is a critical component of conservation efforts, but is hindered by inconsistent, unpredictable outcomes. We investigated a source of this variation that is anecdotally suggested by practitioners, but for which empirical evidence is rare: the weather conditions during the first growing season after planting. The idea of whether natural communities face long-term consequences from conditions even many years in the past, called historical contingency, is a debated idea in ecological research. Using a large dataset (83 sites) across a wide geographic distribution (three states), we find evidence that precipitation and temperatures in the planting year (2–19 years before present) affected the relative dominance of the sown (native target species) and non-sown (mostly non-native) species. We find strong support for lasting planting year weather effects in restored tallgrass prairies, thereby supporting the historically contingent model of community assembly in a real-world setting.

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