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  1. Abstract Aims

    The productivity–plant diversity relationship is a central subject in ecology under debate for decades. Anthropogenic disturbances have been demonstrated to affect productivity and plant diversity. However, the impact of disturbances on the productivity–diversity relationship is poorly understood.

    Location

    An old‐field located at the Touch of Nature Environmental Center in Jackson County, Illinois, USA.

    Methods

    A manipulative experiment with fertilizer (unfertilized, fertilized annually, fertilized every five years) and mowing (unmowed, mowed in spring only, mowed in spring and fall) in a successional old‐field began in 1996 to examine disturbance effects on above‐ground net primary productivity (ANPP)–plant diversity relationships. Taxonomic (species richness, T0) and phylogenetic (net relatedness index, NRI) diversity were selected as potential plant diversity metrics.

    Results

    A unimodal relationship of ANPP with T0 and a negative relationship between ANPP and NRI were found across all treatments and years in this study, but individual years showed different patterns. Fertilization did not affect T0, NRI, and ANPP, whereas mowing stimulated T0 and ANPP but reduced NRI (i.e., increasing phylogenetic diversity) across all survey years. New colonists, especially exotic species introduced under mowing, but not locally extinct species, were more distantly related to resident species than by chance, implying that invasion of exotic species contributes to phylogenetic overdispersion of community assembly in the old‐field. However, the patterns of the unimodal relationship of ANPP with T0 and the negative correlation between ANPP and NRI did not change under fertilization or mowing in this study.

    Conclusions

    Anthropogenic disturbances alter productivity and different dimensions of plant diversity, but do not change the patterns of the productivity–diversity relationships. Our findings highlight the robust relationship between productivity and diversity providing empirical support for productivity as a powerful predictor of plant diversity under intensified human activities.

     
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  2. Abstract Questions

    Plant–plant interactions are key processes that strongly affect the survival, growth and reproduction of individuals in plant communities. In grasslands, the micro‐environment generated under the canopy of shrubs could differentially affect co‐occurring species with different abiotic requirements. In a C3/C4grassland with scattered shrubs, we asked the following questions: (a) Does the aerial effect, the below‐ground effect, and the net effect of shrubs affect the vegetative and reproductive biomass, the number of tillers, the biomass allocation, and the leaf elongation rate of grasses? and (b) Do these effects differ between C3and C4grasses?

    Location

    Temperate sub‐humid grassland of Uruguay.

    Methods

    We planted one C3and two C4grasses under a shrub canopy and in adjacent open sites. Half of the grasses were planted with a fabric bag to reduce root competition with the shrub. We measured leaf elongation rate, the number of tillers produced and the biomass of the grasses in every treatment. We also measured photosynthetic photon flux density (PPFD), air temperature and wind speed under shrub canopies and in adjacent open sites.

    Results

    Root biomass, aerial biomass and reproductive biomass, the number of tillers and the leaf elongation rate of the C4grasses were negatively affected by the reduction in radiation and probably by below‐ground competition with the shrub. On the other hand, the leaf elongation rate of the C3grasses was positively affected by the shrub canopy.PPFD, air temperature and wind speed were lower under shrubs than in adjacent open sites.

    Conclusions

    Our results show the interplay between plant interactions and photosynthetic metabolism on the vegetative and reproductive performance of grasses. The micro‐environmental conditions generated below shrub canopies create a more appropriate site for the growth of C3than for C4grasses. These results show that shrubs may differentially affect co‐occurring species with different abiotic requirements.

     
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  3. Abstract Questions

    We asked how plant community composition responded to experimentally produced warmer and drier climate conditions at the landscape scale with existing variation in local species composition and environmental conditions. We aimed to identify changes in community composition overall and the species with greatest response in abundance, and hypothesized that locally restricted species may be more sensitive to warming than more widespread species within the landscape based on the assumption that they have a narrower niche breadth with respect to environmental conditions.

    Location

    Semiarid, northern Mongolian steppe.

    Methods

    Open‐top passive warming chambers (OTCs) elevated temperatures at two slope locations that differed in elevation, degree of slope, environmental conditions, and species composition. The OTC treatment was crossed with watering on the drier upper slope. Community composition differences among treatments were examined using canonical analysis of principal coordinates (CAP), which identified species contributing the most to differences. In response to warming, we also compared species locally restricted to one slope location with locally widespread species.

    Results

    Open‐top passive warming chambers affected community composition more where soil moisture was greater, at the lower slope location and where warming was combined with supplemental watering on the drier upper slope. Locally restricted species responded negatively to the OTC while locally widespread species showed no overall response.

    Conclusions

    Community composition responses to warming differ even within the landscape over and above the initial differences that exist in community structure and abiotic factors. Our results suggest that a warmer and drier climate will impact community composition sooner under more mesic conditions, affect locally restricted species more strongly, and reduce variation in species composition across the landscape. To better predict community responses to future warming, we must consider combined and interactive effects with changes in precipitation and extant water availability.

     
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  4. Abstract Aim

    In savannas, a grass‐dominated ground layer is key to ecosystem function via grass–fire feedbacks that maintain open ecosystems. With woody encroachment, tree density increases, thereby decreasing light in the ground layer and potentially altering ecosystem function. We investigated how light availability can filter individual grass species distributions and whether different functional traits are associated with response to a shade gradient in a landscape experiencing woody encroachment.

    Location

    Savanna–forest mosaic in the Cerrado domain, southeastern Brazil.

    Methods

    Along an encroachment gradient of increasing tree leaf area index (LAI) and shade, we determined how changing light availability alters grass diversity and ground layer structure relative to grass cover and grass functional traits (photosynthetic pathway, underground storage organs, bud protection and traits related to grass shape, size and leaf dimensions).

    Results

    Increasing shade led to a decrease in grass cover and grass species richness, and also compositional and functional changes. We found that where tree LAI reached 1, grass cover was reduced by 50% and species richness by 30%. While C4grass species abundances decreased with increasing shade, the opposite pattern was true for C3grasses. There were only small differences in light preferences among C4subtypes, with phosphoenolpyruvate carboxykinase (PCK) species tolerating slightly more shaded conditions. Persistence of some C4species under more shaded conditions was possible, likely due to an ability to store starch reserves via underground storage organs.

    Conclusions

    Woody encroachment changes diversity and structure of the grassy layer that is critical to the functioning of savanna ecosystems, highlighting the dependence of the diverse grass layer on open and sunny conditions. Our results suggest a threshold of tree cover close to LAI ≈ 1 as being critical to cerrado grassy layer conservation.

     
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