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  1. Free, publicly-accessible full text available July 1, 2024
  2. Abstract

    The determinants of fire-driven changes in soil organic carbon (SOC) across broad environmental gradients remains unclear, especially in global drylands. Here we combined datasets and field sampling of fire-manipulation experiments to evaluate where and why fire changes SOC and compared our statistical model to simulations from ecosystem models. Drier ecosystems experienced larger relative changes in SOC than humid ecosystems—in some cases exceeding losses from plant biomass pools—primarily explained by high fire-driven declines in tree biomass inputs in dry ecosystems. Many ecosystem models underestimated the SOC changes in drier ecosystems. Upscaling our statistical model predicted that soils in savannah–grassland regions may have gained 0.64 PgC due to net-declines in burned area over the past approximately two decades. Consequently, ongoing declines in fire frequencies have probably created an extensive carbon sink in the soils of global drylands that may have been underestimated by ecosystem models.

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    Free, publicly-accessible full text available October 1, 2024
  3. Abstract

    Improved understanding of bacterial community responses to multiple environmental filters over long time periods is a fundamental step to develop mechanistic explanations of plant–bacterial interactions as environmental change progresses.

    This is the first study to examine responses of grassland root‐associated bacterial communities to 15 years of experimental manipulations of plant species richness, functional group and factorial enrichment of atmospheric CO2(eCO2) and soil nitrogen (+N).

    Across the experiment, plant species richness was the strongest predictor of rhizobacterial community composition, followed by +N, with no observed effect of eCO2. Monocultures of C3and C4grasses and legumes all exhibited dissimilar rhizobacterial communities within and among those groups. Functional responses were also dependent on plant functional group, where N2‐fixation genes, NO3−‐reducing genes and P‐solubilizing predicted gene abundances increased under resource‐enriched conditions for grasses, but generally declined for legumes. In diverse plots with 16 plant species, the interaction of eCO2+N altered rhizobacterial composition, while +N increased the predicted abundance of nitrogenase‐encoding genes, and eCO2+N increased the predicted abundance of bacterial P‐solubilizing genes.

    Synthesis: Our findings suggest that rhizobacterial community structure and function will be affected by important global environmental change factors such as eCO2, but these responses are primarily contingent on plant species richness and the selective influence of different plant functional groups.

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  4. Akira S Mori (Ed.)
  5. 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
  6. Abstract

    Fire–vegetation feedbacks potentially maintain global savanna and forest distributions. Accordingly, vegetation in savanna and forest ecosystems should have differential responses to fire, but fire response data for herbaceous vegetation have yet to be synthesized across biomes. Here, we examined herbaceous vegetation responses to experimental fire at 30 sites spanning four continents. Across a variety of metrics, herbaceous vegetation increased in abundance where fire was applied, with larger responses to fire in wetter and in cooler and/or less seasonal systems. Compared to forests, savannas were associated with a 4.8 (±0.4) times larger difference in herbaceous vegetation abundance for burned versus unburned plots. In particular, grass cover decreased with fire exclusion in savannas, largely via decreases in C4grass cover, whereas changes in fire frequency had a relatively weak effect on grass cover in forests. These differential responses underscore the importance of fire for maintaining the vegetation structure of savannas and forests.

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    Free, publicly-accessible full text available July 1, 2024
  7. Comita, Liza (Ed.)