Biotic Versus Abiotic Control of Primary Production Identified in a Common Garden Experiment

Scientific Reports
Gary E Belovsky, Jennifer B Slade


Understanding drivers of ecosystem primary production is a foundational question in ecology that grows in importance with anthropogenic stresses (e.g., climate change). Traditionally, ecosystem production is considered to be abiotically controlled at large spatial scales (e.g., precipitation, temperature, etc.), which underlies forecasting climate change impacts. Using a "common garden" experiment over 10 years at two sites with the same plant and grasshopper species, we show that primary production is strongly influenced by biotic factors (herbivory and plant adaptations to it) at finer spatial scales by creating positive feedbacks, which reverse relative productivity of ecosystems expected from abiotic conditions alone. Our results without herbivory indicate that one site has 26% less annual net primary production (ANPP) than the other site. With herbivory, the sites reverse in ANPP, so the site with lower ANPP without herbivory now is 15% greater than the site with higher ANPP without herbivory, as they respectively increase by 6% and decline by 33%. This reversal is due to changing nitrogen availability (N), as N becomes 16% greater at the higher ANPP site with herbivory, respectively a 3% increase and 41% decline in N. The...Continue Reading


Dec 6, 2000·Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America·Gary E Belovsky, J B Slade
Dec 28, 2006·Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America·Robert M PringleDouglas J McCauley
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