Herbivores and nutrients control grassland plant diversity via light limitation.

Journal Article (Multicenter Study;Journal Article)

Human alterations to nutrient cycles and herbivore communities are affecting global biodiversity dramatically. Ecological theory predicts these changes should be strongly counteractive: nutrient addition drives plant species loss through intensified competition for light, whereas herbivores prevent competitive exclusion by increasing ground-level light, particularly in productive systems. Here we use experimental data spanning a globally relevant range of conditions to test the hypothesis that herbaceous plant species losses caused by eutrophication may be offset by increased light availability due to herbivory. This experiment, replicated in 40 grasslands on 6 continents, demonstrates that nutrients and herbivores can serve as counteracting forces to control local plant diversity through light limitation, independent of site productivity, soil nitrogen, herbivore type and climate. Nutrient addition consistently reduced local diversity through light limitation, and herbivory rescued diversity at sites where it alleviated light limitation. Thus, species loss from anthropogenic eutrophication can be ameliorated in grasslands where herbivory increases ground-level light.

Full Text

Duke Authors

Cited Authors

  • Borer, ET; Seabloom, EW; Gruner, DS; Harpole, WS; Hillebrand, H; Lind, EM; Adler, PB; Alberti, J; Anderson, TM; Bakker, JD; Biederman, L; Blumenthal, D; Brown, CS; Brudvig, LA; Buckley, YM; Cadotte, M; Chu, C; Cleland, EE; Crawley, MJ; Daleo, P; Damschen, EI; Davies, KF; DeCrappeo, NM; Du, G; Firn, J; Hautier, Y; Heckman, RW; Hector, A; HilleRisLambers, J; Iribarne, O; Klein, JA; Knops, JMH; La Pierre, KJ; Leakey, ADB; Li, W; MacDougall, AS; McCulley, RL; Melbourne, BA; Mitchell, CE; Moore, JL; Mortensen, B; O'Halloran, LR; Orrock, JL; Pascual, J; Prober, SM; Pyke, DA; Risch, AC; Schuetz, M; Smith, MD; Stevens, CJ; Sullivan, LL; Williams, RJ; Wragg, PD; Wright, JP; Yang, LH

Published Date

  • April 2014

Published In

Volume / Issue

  • 508 / 7497

Start / End Page

  • 517 - 520

PubMed ID

  • 24670649

Electronic International Standard Serial Number (EISSN)

  • 1476-4687

International Standard Serial Number (ISSN)

  • 0028-0836

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

  • 10.1038/nature13144


  • eng