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Plant-herbivore interactions in Alaskan arctic tundra change with soil nutrient availability



Plant-herbivore interactions in Alaskan arctic tundra change with soil nutrient availability



Oikos acta oecologica Scandinavica 116(3): 407-418



Herbivores in nutrient-limited systems such as arctic tundra have been suggested to play a minor role in controlling plant growth simply because they are relatively few in number. However, theory predicts that as net primary productivity (NPP) increases because of greater inputs of nutrients or energy, herbivores may have greater effects on plant growth. This prediction has not been tested in the context of climate warming in arctic tundra, which may increase soil nutrient availability and thus NPP. We examined a long-term experiment that excluded small and large mammalian herbivores and increased soil nutrients in two arctic Alaskan tundra communities: dry heath (DH) and moist acidic tussock (MAT). In the ninth year of manipulations, we measured weekly growth of three plant species of three growth forms: tussock-forming graminoid, rhizomatous graminoid, and dwarf deciduous shrub, in each community. All species grew better when fertilized. In DH, this increase in growth was exaggerated when plants were protected from herbivores, confirming that herbivory had a negative effect on plant growth under increased nutrient conditions, but was unimportant under ambient soil conditions. However, in MAT, the importance of herbivory differed among species with fertilization. The tussock-forming sedge at MAT, Eriophorum vaginatum, grew better and flowered more when fenced under both ambient and amended nutrients compared to plants exposed to herbivores. This species decreases in abundance in long-term fertilized plots when mammals are present, and our results suggest that herbivory may be accounting for at least some of that loss, in addition to shifts in competitive relationships. Although we only focused on individual plants here rather than the entire community, our results suggest that under the increased soil nutrient conditions expected with continued climate warming in the Arctic, herbivores may become more important in affecting several abundant tundra plant populations, and should not be ignored.

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Accession: 013003188

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DOI: 10.1111/j.0030-1299.2007.15449.x



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