Differential herbivory tolerance of dominant and subordinate plant species along gradients of nutrient availability and competition
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- Tahmasebi Kohyani, P., Bossuyt, B., Bonte, D. et al. Plant Ecol (2009) 201: 611. doi:10.1007/s11258-008-9515-x
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We tested whether differences in the herbivory tolerance of plant species is related to their abundance in grassland communities and how herbivory and nutrient availability affect competitive balances among plant species through changes in their tolerance. The experimental approach involved a simulated grazing treatment (clipping) of two competitive grass species (Arrhenatherum elatius and Holcus lanatus) and two subordinate forb species (Prunella vulgaris and Lotus corniculatus) along a gradient of nutrient availability and under conditions of competition. Total standing, aboveground, root, and regrowth biomass were evaluated at the end of the experiment as an estimate of the capacity to compensate for twice removing aboveground biomass at different nutrient levels (NPK). Although clipping had a more pronounced negative effect on dominant plant species (Arrhenatherum and Holcus) than on subordinate species, the negative effects on dominant species were offset by the application of fertilizer. The combined effect of fertilizer and competition had more negative effects on the performance of Lotus and Prunella than on the dominant species. In terms of competition, the regrowth ability of Arrhenatherum and Holcus increased with the application of fertilizer, while the opposite pattern was observed for Lotus and Prunella. The addition of fertilizer has a positive effect on both grass species in terms of growth in clipped pots and competition, while subordinate species did not respond to the addition of fertilizer to the clipped pots and were negatively affected by competition with both grass species. The results suggest (1) that species replacement towards subordinate species as a function of herbivory is partially dependent on the herbivory tolerance of that species, (2) competitive relations between competitive grass species and subordinate forb species change under different environmental conditions, and (3) although grazing disturbance significantly influences competitive relations in favor of less competitive species, increasing nutrient levels counteract the negative effect of grazing on dominant competitive plant species.