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  1. The widespread extirpation of megafauna may have destabilized ecosystems and altered biodiversity globally. Most megafauna extinctions occurred before the modern record, leaving it unclear how their loss impacts current biodiversity. We report the long-term effects of reintroducing plains bison ( Bison bison ) in a tallgrass prairie versus two land uses that commonly occur in many North American grasslands: 1) no grazing and 2) intensive growing-season grazing by domesticated cattle ( Bos taurus ). Compared to ungrazed areas, reintroducing bison increased native plant species richness by 103% at local scales (10 m 2 ) and 86% at the catchment scale. Gains in richness continued for 29 y and were resilient to the most extreme drought in four decades. These gains are now among the largest recorded increases in species richness due to grazing in grasslands globally. Grazing by domestic cattle also increased native plant species richness, but by less than half as much as bison. This study indicates that some ecosystems maintain a latent potential for increased native plant species richness following the reintroduction of native herbivores, which was unmatched by domesticated grazers. Native-grazer gains in richness were resilient to an extreme drought, a pressure likely to become more common under future global environmental change. 
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  2. 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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  3. Plants are subject to tradeoffs among growth strategies such that adaptations for optimal growth in one condition can preclude optimal growth in another. Thus, we predicted that a plant species that responds positively to one global change treatment would be less likely than average to respond positively to another treatment, particularly for pairs of treatments that favor distinct traits. We examined plant species abundances in 39 global change experiments manipulating two or more of the following: CO2, nitrogen, phosphorus, water, temperature, or disturbance. Overall, the directional response of a species to one treatment was 13% more likely than expected to oppose its response to a another single-factor treatment. This tendency was detectable across the global dataset but held little predictive power for individual treatment combinations or within individual experiments. While tradeoffs in the ability to respond to different global change treatments exert discernible global effects, other forces obscure their influence in local communities. 
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  5. Abstract

    Grassland and other herbaceous communities cover significant portions of Earth's terrestrial surface and provide many critical services, such as carbon sequestration, wildlife habitat, and food production. Forecasts of global change impacts on these services will require predictive tools, such as process‐based dynamic vegetation models. Yet, model representation of herbaceous communities and ecosystems lags substantially behind that of tree communities and forests. The limited representation of herbaceous communities within models arises from two important knowledge gaps: first, our empirical understanding of the principles governing herbaceous vegetation dynamics is either incomplete or does not provide mechanistic information necessary to drive herbaceous community processes with models; second, current model structure and parameterization of grass and other herbaceous plant functional types limits the ability of models to predict outcomes of competition and growth for herbaceous vegetation. In this review, we provide direction for addressing these gaps by: (1) presenting a brief history of how vegetation dynamics have been developed and incorporated into earth system models, (2) reporting on a model simulation activity to evaluate current model capability to represent herbaceous vegetation dynamics and ecosystem function, and (3) detailing several ecological properties and phenomena that should be a focus for both empiricists and modelers to improve representation of herbaceous vegetation in models. Together, empiricists and modelers can improve representation of herbaceous ecosystem processes within models. In so doing, we will greatly enhance our ability to forecast future states of the earth system, which is of high importance given the rapid rate of environmental change on our planet.

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  6. null (Ed.)
    Abstract Eutrophication is a widespread environmental change that usually reduces the stabilizing effect of plant diversity on productivity in local communities. Whether this effect is scale dependent remains to be elucidated. Here, we determine the relationship between plant diversity and temporal stability of productivity for 243 plant communities from 42 grasslands across the globe and quantify the effect of chronic fertilization on these relationships. Unfertilized local communities with more plant species exhibit greater asynchronous dynamics among species in response to natural environmental fluctuations, resulting in greater local stability (alpha stability). Moreover, neighborhood communities that have greater spatial variation in plant species composition within sites (higher beta diversity) have greater spatial asynchrony of productivity among communities, resulting in greater stability at the larger scale (gamma stability). Importantly, fertilization consistently weakens the contribution of plant diversity to both of these stabilizing mechanisms, thus diminishing the positive effect of biodiversity on stability at differing spatial scales. Our findings suggest that preserving grassland functional stability requires conservation of plant diversity within and among ecological communities. 
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  7. Abstract

    Dominance often indicates one or a few species being best suited for resource capture and retention in a given environment. Press perturbations that change availability of limiting resources can restructure competitive hierarchies, allowing new species to capture or retain resources and leaving once dominant species fated to decline. However, dominant species may maintain high abundances even when their new environments no longer favour them due to stochastic processes associated with their high abundance, impeding deterministic processes that would otherwise diminish them.

    Here, we quantify the persistence of dominance by tracking the rate of decline in dominant species at 90 globally distributed grassland sites under experimentally elevated soil nutrient supply and reduced vertebrate consumer pressure.

    We found that chronic experimental nutrient addition and vertebrate exclusion caused certain subsets of species to lose dominance more quickly than in control plots. In control plots, perennial species and species with high initial cover maintained dominance for longer than annual species and those with low initial cover respectively. In fertilized plots, species with high initial cover maintained dominance at similar rates to control plots, while those with lower initial cover lost dominance even faster than similar species in controls. High initial cover increased the estimated time to dominance loss more strongly in plots with vertebrate exclosures than in controls. Vertebrate exclosures caused a slight decrease in the persistence of dominance for perennials, while fertilization brought perennials' rate of dominance loss in line with those of annuals. Annual species lost dominance at similar rates regardless of treatments.

    Synthesis.Collectively, these results point to a strong role of a species' historical abundance in maintaining dominance following environmental perturbations. Because dominant species play an outsized role in driving ecosystem processes, their ability to remain dominant—regardless of environmental conditions—is critical to anticipating expected rates of change in the structure and function of grasslands. Species that maintain dominance while no longer competitively favoured following press perturbations due to their historical abundances may result in community compositions that do not maximize resource capture, a key process of system responses to global change.

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