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  1. Abandoned agricultural fields (old fields) are thought to accumulate soil organic matter (SOM) after cultivation cessation. However, most research on old fields soil carbon (C) and nitrogen (N) sequestration has focused on the surface (10 or 30 cm depth) and overlooked their dynamics below 30 cm. This study quantified C and N stock change in both the surface and subsurface with repeated inventories over 13 years. We conducted repeated soil surveys in 8 old fields that form a 64-year chronosequence at Cedar Creek Ecosystem Science Reserve (CCESR), Minnesota in 2001 and 2014. On average, soil C and N accumulated by 16.5 ± 14.5 g C m−2 y−1 and 1.0 ± 1.1 g N m−2 y−1 in the surface (0–20 cm). In contrast, we found soil C and N decreased by 78.9 ± 26.3 g C m−2 y−1 and 12.9 ± 2.42 g N m−2 y−1 in the subsurface (20–100 cm). The C and N losses in the subsurface soil were correlated with low deep root biomass; the majority of roots are located in the top 20 cm of soil. Such root distribution may be attributed to the continuing dominance of nonnative and shallow-rooted C3 grasses and the lack of legumes after field abandonment. This study shows that agriculture has a long legacy effect after abandonment on subsurface soil C and N. Some abandoned agricultural fields can continue to lose C and N because surface C and N accumulation does not offset the ongoing deeper soil C and N losses. 
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  2. Abstract

    Eutrophication usually impacts grassland biodiversity, community composition, and biomass production, but its impact on the stability of these community aspects is unclear. One challenge is that stability has many facets that can be tightly correlated (low dimensionality) or highly disparate (high dimensionality). Using standardized experiments in 55 grassland sites from a globally distributed experiment (NutNet), we quantify the effects of nutrient addition on five facets of stability (temporal invariability, resistance during dry and wet growing seasons, recovery after dry and wet growing seasons), measured on three community aspects (aboveground biomass, community composition, and species richness). Nutrient addition reduces the temporal invariability and resistance of species richness and community composition during dry and wet growing seasons, but does not affect those of biomass. Different stability measures are largely uncorrelated under both ambient and eutrophic conditions, indicating consistently high dimensionality. Harnessing the dimensionality of ecological stability provides insights for predicting grassland responses to global environmental change.

     
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    Free, publicly-accessible full text available December 1, 2024
  3. Abstract Causal effects of biodiversity on ecosystem functions can be estimated using experimental or observational designs — designs that pose a tradeoff between drawing credible causal inferences from correlations and drawing generalizable inferences. Here, we develop a design that reduces this tradeoff and revisits the question of how plant species diversity affects productivity. Our design leverages longitudinal data from 43 grasslands in 11 countries and approaches borrowed from fields outside of ecology to draw causal inferences from observational data. Contrary to many prior studies, we estimate that increases in plot-level species richness caused productivity to decline: a 10% increase in richness decreased productivity by 2.4%, 95% CI [−4.1, −0.74]. This contradiction stems from two sources. First, prior observational studies incompletely control for confounding factors. Second, most experiments plant fewer rare and non-native species than exist in nature. Although increases in native, dominant species increased productivity, increases in rare and non-native species decreased productivity, making the average effect negative in our study. By reducing the tradeoff between experimental and observational designs, our study demonstrates how observational studies can complement prior ecological experiments and inform future ones. 
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    Free, publicly-accessible full text available December 1, 2024
  4. 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
  5. Abstract

    All multicellular organisms host a diverse microbiome composed of microbial pathogens, mutualists, and commensals, and changes in microbiome diversity or composition can alter host fitness and function. Nonetheless, we lack a general understanding of the drivers of microbiome diversity, in part because it is regulated by concurrent processes spanning scales from global to local. Global-scale environmental gradients can determine variation in microbiome diversity among sites, however an individual host’s microbiome also may reflect its local micro-environment. We fill this knowledge gap by experimentally manipulating two potential mediators of plant microbiome diversity (soil nutrient supply and herbivore density) at 23 grassland sites spanning global-scale gradients in soil nutrients, climate, and plant biomass. Here we show that leaf-scale microbiome diversity in unmanipulated plots depended on the total microbiome diversity at each site, which was highest at sites with high soil nutrients and plant biomass. We also found that experimentally adding soil nutrients and excluding herbivores produced concordant results across sites, increasing microbiome diversity by increasing plant biomass, which created a shaded microclimate. This demonstration of consistent responses of microbiome diversity across a wide range of host species and environmental conditions suggests the possibility of a general, predictive understanding of microbiome diversity.

     
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  6. Abstract

    Little is currently known about how climate modulates the relationship between plant diversity and soil organic carbon and the mechanisms involved. Yet, this knowledge is of crucial importance in times of climate change and biodiversity loss. Here, we show that plant diversity is positively correlated with soil carbon content and soil carbon-to-nitrogen ratio across 84 grasslands on six continents that span wide climate gradients. The relationships between plant diversity and soil carbon as well as plant diversity and soil organic matter quality (carbon-to-nitrogen ratio) are particularly strong in warm and arid climates. While plant biomass is positively correlated with soil carbon, plant biomass is not significantly correlated with plant diversity. Our results indicate that plant diversity influences soil carbon storage not via the quantity of organic matter (plant biomass) inputs to soil, but through the quality of organic matter. The study implies that ecosystem management that restores plant diversity likely enhances soil carbon sequestration, particularly in warm and arid climates.

     
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  7. Thrall, Peter (Ed.)
  8. Free, publicly-accessible full text available July 1, 2024
  9. Blonder, Benjamin (Ed.)