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  1. 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.
    Free, publicly-accessible full text available December 1, 2024
  2. African savannas are the last stronghold of diverse large-mammal communities, and a major focus of savanna ecology is to understand how these animals affect the relative abundance of trees and grasses. However, savannas support diverse plant life-forms, and human-induced changes in large-herbivore assemblages—declining wildlife populations and their displacement by livestock—may cause unexpected shifts in plant community composition. We investigated how herbivory affects the prevalence of lianas (woody vines) and their impact on trees in an East African savanna. Although scarce (<2% of tree canopy area) and defended by toxic latex, the dominant liana,Cynanchum viminale(Apocynaceae), was eaten by 15 wild large-herbivore species and was consumed in bulk by native browsers during experimental cafeteria trials. In contrast, domesticated ungulates rarely ate lianas. When we experimentally excluded all large herbivores for periods of 8 to 17 y (simulating extirpation), liana abundance increased dramatically, with up to 75% of trees infested. Piecewise exclusion of different-sized herbivores revealed functional complementarity among size classes in suppressing lianas. Liana infestation reduced tree growth and reproduction, but herbivores quickly cleared lianas from trees after the removal of 18-y-old exclosure fences (simulating rewilding). A simple model of liana contagion showed that, without herbivores, the long-term equilibrium could be eithermore »endemic (liana–tree coexistence) or an all-liana alternative stable state. We conclude that ongoing declines of wild large-herbivore populations will disrupt the structure and functioning of many African savannas in ways that have received little attention and that may not be mitigated by replacing wildlife with livestock.

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  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. Abstract

    Human activities are altering ecological communities around the globe. Understanding the implications of these changes requires that we consider the composition of those communities. However, composition can be summarized by many metrics which in turn are influenced by different ecological processes. For example, incidence‐based metrics strongly reflect species gains or losses, while abundance‐based metrics are minimally affected by changes in the abundance of small or uncommon species. Furthermore, metrics might be correlated with different predictors. We used a globally distributed experiment to examine variation in species composition within 60 grasslands on six continents. Each site had an identical experimental and sampling design: 24 plots × 4 years. We expressed compositional variation within each site—not across sites—using abundance‐ and incidence‐based metrics of the magnitude of dissimilarity (Bray–Curtis and Sorensen, respectively), abundance‐ and incidence‐based measures of the relative importance of replacement (balanced variation and species turnover, respectively), and species richness at two scales (per plot‐year [alpha] and per site [gamma]). Average compositional variation among all plot‐years at a site was high and similar to spatial variation among plots in the pretreatment year, but lower among years in untreated plots. For both types of metrics, most variation was due to replacement rather than nestedness. Differencesmore »among sites in overall within‐site compositional variation were related to several predictors. Environmental heterogeneity (expressed as the CV of total aboveground plant biomass in unfertilized plots of the site) was an important predictor for most metrics. Biomass production was a predictor of species turnover and of alpha diversity but not of other metrics. Continentality (measured as annual temperature range) was a strong predictor of Sorensen dissimilarity. Metrics of compositional variation are moderately correlated: knowing the magnitude of dissimilarity at a site provides little insight into whether the variation is driven by replacement processes. Overall, our understanding of compositional variation at a site is enhanced by considering multiple metrics simultaneously. Monitoring programs that explicitly incorporate these implications, both when designing sampling strategies and analyzing data, will have a stronger ability to understand the compositional variation of systems and to quantify the impacts of human activities.

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  6. Abstract

    Biotic and abiotic factors interact with dominant plants—the locally most frequent or with the largest coverage—and nondominant plants differently, partially because dominant plants modify the environment where nondominant plants grow. For instance, if dominant plants compete strongly, they will deplete most resources, forcing nondominant plants into a narrower niche space. Conversely, if dominant plants are constrained by the environment, they might not exhaust available resources but instead may ameliorate environmental stressors that usually limit nondominants. Hence, the nature of interactions among nondominant species could be modified by dominant species. Furthermore, these differences could translate into a disparity in the phylogenetic relatedness among dominants compared to the relatedness among nondominants. By estimating phylogenetic dispersion in 78 grasslands across five continents, we found that dominant species were clustered (e.g., co‐dominant grasses), suggesting dominant species are likely organized by environmental filtering, and that nondominant species were either randomly assembled or overdispersed. Traits showed similar trends for those sites (<50%) with sufficient trait data. Furthermore, several lineages scattered in the phylogeny had more nondominant species than expected at random, suggesting that traits common in nondominants are phylogenetically conserved and have evolved multiple times. We also explored environmental drivers of the dominant/nondominant disparity. We foundmore »different assembly patterns for dominants and nondominants, consistent with asymmetries in assembly mechanisms. Among the different postulated mechanisms, our results suggest two complementary hypotheses seldom explored: (1) Nondominant species include lineages adapted to thrive in the environment generated by dominant species. (2) Even when dominant species reduce resources to nondominant ones, dominant species could have a stronger positive effect on some nondominants by ameliorating environmental stressors affecting them, than by depleting resources and increasing the environmental stress to those nondominants. These results show that the dominant/nondominant asymmetry has ecological and evolutionary consequences fundamental to understand plant communities.

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  7. Abstract

    Plant damage by invertebrate herbivores and pathogens influences the dynamics of grassland ecosystems, but anthropogenic changes in nitrogen and phosphorus availability can modify these relationships.

    Using a globally distributed experiment, we describe leaf damage on 153 plant taxa from 27 grasslands worldwide, under ambient conditions and with experimentally elevated nitrogen and phosphorus.

    Invertebrate damage significantly increased with nitrogen addition, especially in grasses and non‐leguminous forbs. Pathogen damage increased with nitrogen in grasses and legumes but not forbs. Effects of phosphorus were generally weaker. Damage was higher in grasslands with more precipitation, but climatic conditions did not change effects of nutrients on leaf damage. On average, invertebrate damage was relatively higher on legumes and pathogen damage was relatively higher on grasses. Community‐weighted mean damage reflected these functional group patterns, with no effects of N on community‐weighted pathogen damage (due to opposing responses of grasses and forbs) but stronger effects of N on community‐weighted invertebrate damage (due to consistent responses of grasses and forbs).

    Synthesis. As human‐induced inputs of nitrogen and phosphorus continue to increase, understanding their impacts on invertebrate and pathogen damage becomes increasingly important. Our results demonstrate that eutrophication frequently increases plant damage and that damage increases with precipitation across a widemore »array of grasslands. Invertebrate and pathogen damage in grasslands is likely to increase in the future, with potential consequences for plant, invertebrate and pathogen communities, as well as the transfer of energy and nutrients across trophic levels.

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