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  1. 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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  2. Abstract

    Research internships provide students with invaluable experience conducting independent research, contributing to larger research programs, and embedding in a professional scientific setting. These experiences increase student persistence in ecology and other science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields and promote the inclusion of students who lack opportunities at their home institutions and/or are from groups that are underrepresented in STEM. While many ecology internship programs were canceled during the 2020 COVID‐19 pandemic, others successfully adapted to offer virtual internships for the first time. Though different from what many researchers and students envision when they think of internships, virtual ecology internship programs can create more accessible opportunities and be just as valuable as in‐person opportunities when research programs and advisors develop virtual internships with intention and planning. Here, we highlight six ways to structure a virtual intern project, spanning a spectrum from purely computer‐based opportunities (e.g., digital data gathering, data analysis, or synthesis) to fully hands‐on research (e.g., sample processing or home‐based experiments). We illustrate examples of these virtual projects through a case study of the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center's 2020 Virtual Internship Program. Next, we provide 10 recommendations for effectively developing a virtual internship program. Finally, we end with ways that virtual internships can avoid the limitations of in‐person internships, as well as possible solutions to perceived pitfalls of virtual internships. While virtual internships became a necessity in 2020 due to COVID‐19, the development and continuation of virtual internships in future can be a valuable tool to add to the suite of existing internship opportunities, possibly further promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion in ecology and STEM.

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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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    Anthropogenic nutrient enrichment is driving global biodiversity decline and modifying ecosystem functions. Theory suggests that plant functional types that fix atmospheric nitrogen have a competitive advantage in nitrogen-poor soils, but lose this advantage with increasing nitrogen supply. By contrast, the addition of phosphorus, potassium, and other nutrients may benefit such species in low-nutrient environments by enhancing their nitrogen-fixing capacity. We present a global-scale experiment confirming these predictions for nitrogen-fixing legumes (Fabaceae) across 45 grasslands on six continents. Nitrogen addition reduced legume cover, richness, and biomass, particularly in nitrogen-poor soils, while cover of non–nitrogen-fixing plants increased. The addition of phosphorous, potassium, and other nutrients enhanced legume abundance, but did not mitigate the negative effects of nitrogen addition. Increasing nitrogen supply thus has the potential to decrease the diversity and abundance of grassland legumes worldwide regardless of the availability of other nutrients, with consequences for biodiversity, food webs, ecosystem resilience, and genetic improvement of protein-rich agricultural plant species. 
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  6. Summary

    Species dominance and biodiversity in plant communities have received considerable attention and characterisation. However, species codominance, while often alleged, is seldom defined or quantified. Codominance is a common phenomenon and is likely to be an important driver of community structure, ecosystem function and the stability of both. Here we review the use of the term ‘codominance’ and find inconsistencies in its use, suggesting that the scientific community currently lacks a universal understanding of codominance. We address this issue by: (1) qualitatively defining codominance as mostly shared abundance that is distinctively isolated within a subset of a community, and (2) presenting a novel metric for quantifying the degree to which relative abundances are shared among a codominant subset of plant species, while also accounting for the remaining species within a plant community. Using both simulated and real‐world data, we then demonstrate the process of applying the codominance metric to compare communities and to generate a quantitatively defensible subset of species to consider codominant within a community. We show that our metric effectively distinguishes the degree of codominance between four types of grassland ecosystems as well as simulated ecosystems with varying degrees of abundance sharing among community members. Overall, we make the case that increased research focusses on the conditions under which codominance occurs and the consequences for species coexistence, community structure and ecosystem function that would considerably advance the fields of community and ecosystem ecology.

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