skip to main content


Search for: All records

Creators/Authors contains: "McCulley, Rebecca L."

Note: When clicking on a Digital Object Identifier (DOI) number, you will be taken to an external site maintained by the publisher. Some full text articles may not yet be available without a charge during the embargo (administrative interval).
What is a DOI Number?

Some links on this page may take you to non-federal websites. Their policies may differ from this site.

  1. Abstract Background and aims

    A synergistic response of aboveground plant biomass production to combined nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P) addition has been observed in many ecosystems, but the underlying mechanisms and their relative importance are not well known. We aimed at evaluating several mechanisms that could potentially cause the synergistic growth response, such as changes in plant biomass allocation, increased N and P uptake by plants, and enhanced ecosystem nutrient retention.

    Methods

    We studied five grasslands located in Europe and the USA that are subjected to an element addition experiment composed of four treatments: control (no element addition), N addition, P addition, combined NP addition.

    Results

    Combined NP addition increased the total plant N stocks by 1.47 times compared to the N treatment, while total plant P stocks were 1.62 times higher in NP than in single P addition. Further, higher N uptake by plants in response to combined NP addition was associated with reduced N losses from the soil (evaluated based on soil δ15N) compared to N addition alone, indicating a higher ecosystem N retention. In contrast, the synergistic growth response was not associated with significant changes in plant resource allocation.

    Conclusions

    Our results demonstrate that the commonly observed synergistic effect of NP addition on aboveground biomass production in grasslands is caused by enhanced N uptake compared to single N addition, and increased P uptake compared to single P addition, which is associated with a higher N and P retention in the ecosystem.

     
    more » « less
  2. 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. 
    more » « less
    Free, publicly-accessible full text available December 1, 2024
  3. 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. 
    more » « less
    Free, publicly-accessible full text available December 1, 2024
  4. Grassland ecosystems cover around 37% of the ice-free land surface on Earth and have critical socioeconomic importance globally. As in many terrestrial ecosystems, biological dinitrogen (N 2 ) fixation represents an essential natural source of nitrogen (N). The ability to fix atmospheric N 2 is limited to diazotrophs, a diverse guild of bacteria and archaea. To elucidate the abiotic (climatic, edaphic), biotic (vegetation), and spatial factors that govern diazotrophic community composition in global grassland soils, amplicon sequencing of the dinitrogenase reductase gene— nifH —was performed on samples from a replicated standardized nutrient [N, phosphorus (P)] addition experiment in 23 grassland sites spanning four continents. Sites harbored distinct and diverse diazotrophic communities, with most of reads assigned to diazotrophic taxa within the Alphaproteobacteria (e.g., Rhizobiales ), Cyanobacteria (e.g., Nostocales ), and Deltaproteobacteria (e.g., Desulforomonadales ) groups. Likely because of the wide range of climatic and edaphic conditions and spatial distance among sampling sites, only a few of the taxa were present at all sites. The best model describing the variation among soil diazotrophic communities at the OTU level combined climate seasonality (temperature in the wettest quarter and precipitation in the warmest quarter) with edaphic (C:N ratio, soil texture) and vegetation factors (various perennial plant covers). Additionally, spatial variables (geographic distance) correlated with diazotrophic community variation, suggesting an interplay of environmental variables and spatial distance. The diazotrophic communities appeared to be resilient to elevated nutrient levels, as 2–4 years of chronic N and P additions had little effect on the community composition. However, it remains to be seen, whether changes in the community composition occur after exposure to long-term, chronic fertilization regimes. 
    more » « less
  5. 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.

     
    more » « less
  6. Abstract Background and aims The amount of nitrogen (N) derived from symbiotic N 2 fixation by legumes in grasslands might be affected by anthropogenic N and phosphorus (P) inputs, but the underlying mechanisms are not known. Methods We evaluated symbiotic N 2 fixation in 17 natural and semi-natural grasslands on four continents that are subjected to the same full-factorial N and P addition experiment, using the 15 N natural abundance method. Results N as well as combined N and P (NP) addition reduced aboveground legume biomass by 65% and 45%, respectively, compared to the control, whereas P addition had no significant impact. Addition of N and/or P had no significant effect on the symbiotic N 2 fixation per unit legume biomass. In consequence, the amount of N fixed annually per grassland area was less than half in the N addition treatments compared to control and P addition, irrespective of whether the dominant legumes were annuals or perennials. Conclusion Our results reveal that N addition mainly impacts symbiotic N 2 fixation via reduced biomass of legumes rather than changes in N 2 fixation per unit legume biomass. The results show that soil N enrichment by anthropogenic activities significantly reduces N 2 fixation in grasslands, and these effects cannot be reversed by additional P amendment. 
    more » « less
  7. 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. 
    more » « less