, Volume 176, Issue 4, pp 1173–1185 | Cite as

Plant and arthropod community sensitivity to rainfall manipulation but not nitrogen enrichment in a successional grassland ecosystem

  • Mark A. Lee
  • Pete Manning
  • Catherine S. Walker
  • Sally A. Power
Global change ecology - Original research


Grasslands provide many ecosystem services including carbon storage, biodiversity preservation and livestock forage production. These ecosystem services will change in the future in response to multiple global environmental changes, including climate change and increased nitrogen inputs. We conducted an experimental study over 3 years in a mesotrophic grassland ecosystem in southern England. We aimed to expose plots to rainfall manipulation that simulated IPCC 4th Assessment projections for 2100 (+15 % winter rainfall and −30 % summer rainfall) or ambient climate, achieving +15 % winter rainfall and −39 % summer rainfall in rainfall-manipulated plots. Nitrogen (40 kg ha−1 year−1) was also added to half of the experimental plots in factorial combination. Plant species composition and above ground biomass were not affected by rainfall in the first 2 years and the plant community did not respond to nitrogen enrichment throughout the experiment. In the third year, above-ground plant biomass declined in rainfall-manipulated plots, driven by a decline in the abundances of grass species characteristic of moist soils. Declining plant biomass was also associated with changes to arthropod communities, with lower abundances of plant-feeding Auchenorrhyncha and carnivorous Araneae indicating multi-trophic responses to rainfall manipulation. Plant and arthropod community composition and plant biomass responses to rainfall manipulation were not modified by nitrogen enrichment, which was not expected, but may have resulted from prior nitrogen saturation and/or phosphorus limitation. Overall, our study demonstrates that climate change may in future influence plant productivity and induce multi-trophic responses in grasslands.


Biodiversity Climate change Drought Ecosystem functioning Nitrogen addition 

Supplementary material

442_2014_3077_MOESM1_ESM.docx (412 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 412 kb)


  1. Bardgett D, Streeter TC, Bol R (2003) Soil microbes compete effectively with plants for organic-nitrogen inputs to temperate grasslands. Ecology 84:1277–1287CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Beier C, Emmett C, Gundersen P, Tietema A, Penuelas J, Estiarte M, Grodon C, Gorissen A, Llorens L, Roda F, Williams D (2004) Novel approaches to study climate change effects on terrestrial ecosystems in the field: drought and passive nighttime warming. Ecosystems 7:583–597CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Blüthgen N, Dormann CF, Prati D, Klaus VH, Kleinebecker T, Holzel N, Alt F, Boch S, Gockel S, Hemp A, Müller J, Nieschulze J, Renner SC, Schöning I, Schumacher U, Socher SA, Wells K, Birkhofer K, Buscot F, Oelmann Y, Rothenwöhrer C, Scherber C, Tscharntke T, Weiner CN, Fischer M, Kalko EKV, Linsenmair KE, Schulze E-D, Weisser WW (2012) A quantitative index of land-use intensity in grasslands: integrating mowing, grazing and fertilization. Basic Appl Ecol 13:207–220CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Bobbink R, Hornung M, Roelofs JGM (1998) The effects of air-borne nitrogen pollutants on species diversity in natural and semi-natural European vegetation. J Ecol 86:717–738CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Bobbink R, Hicks K, Galloway J, Spranger T, Alkemader R, Ashmore M, Bustamante M, Cinderby S, Davidson E, Dentener F, Emmett B, Erisman JW, Fenn M, Gilliam F, Nordin A, Pardo L, De Vries W (2010) Global assessment of nitrogen deposition effects on terrestrial plant diversity: a synthesis. Ecol Appl 20:30–59PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Borken W, Matzner E (2009) Reappraisal of drying and wetting effects on C and N mineralization and fluxes in soils. Glob Change Biol 15:808–824CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Boyer AG, Swearingen RE, Blaha MA, Fortson CT, Gremillions SK, Osborn KA, Moran MD (2003) Seasonal variation in top-down and bottom-up processes in a grassland arthropod community. Oecologia 136:309–316PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Brook AJ, Woodcock BA, Sinka M, Vanbergen AJ (2008) Experimental verification of suction sampler capture efficiency in grasslands of differing vegetation height and structure. J Appl Ecol 45:1357–1363CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Burkle EL, Irwin R (2010) Beyond biomass: measuring the effects of community-level nitrogen enrichment on floral traits, pollinator visitation and plant reproduction. J Ecol 98:705–717CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Carroll JA, Caporn SJM, Johnson ND, Morecroft MD, Lee JA (2003) The interactions between plant growth, vegetation structure and soil processes in semi-natural acidic and calcareous grasslands receiving long-term inputs of simulated pollutant nitrogen deposition. Environl Pollut 121:363–376CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Cole L, Bucklands SM, Bardgett RD (2008) Influence of disturbance and nitrogen addition on plant and soil animal diversity in grassland. Soil Biol Biochem 40:505–514CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Crawley MJ (2005) The flora of Berkshire. Brambleby, HarpendenGoogle Scholar
  13. Crawley MJ (2007) The R book. Wiley, OxfordCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Critchley CNR, Chambers BJ, Fowbert JA, Sanderson RA, Bhogal A, Rose SC (2002) Association between lowland grassland plant communities and soil properties. Biol Conserv 105:199–215CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Dentener F, Drevet J, Lamarque JF, Bey I, Eickhout B, Fiore AM, Hauglustaine D, Orowitz LW, Krol M, Kulshrestha UC, Lawrence M, Galy-Lacaux C, Rast S, Shindell D, Stevenson D, Noije TV, Atherton C, Bell N, Bergman D, Butler T, Cofala J, Collins B, Doherty R, Elingsen K, Galloway J, Gauss M (2006) Nitrogen and sulfur deposition on regional and global scales: a multimodel evaluation. Glob Biogeochem Cy 20:GB4003. doi:10.1029/2005GB002672
  16. Dukes JS, Chiariello NR, Cleland EE, Moore LA, Shaw MR, Thayer S, Tobeck T, Mooney HA, Field CB (2005) Responses of grassland production to single and multiple global environmental changes. PLoS ONE 3:1829–1837Google Scholar
  17. Evans SE, Byrne KM, Lauenroth WK, Burke IC (2011) Defining the limit to resistance in a drought-tolerant grassland: long-term severe drought significantly reduces the dominant species and increases ruderals. J Ecol 99:1500–1507CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Fay PA, Carlisle JD, Knapp AK, Blair JM, Collins SL (2003) Productivity responses to altered rainfall patterns in a C4-dominated grassland. Oecologia 137:245–251PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Fraser LH, Grime JP (1998) Top-down control and its effect on the biomass and composition of three grasses at high and low soil fertility in outdoor microcosms. Oecologia 113:239–246CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Fraser LH, Henry HAL, Caryle CN, White SR, Beierkuhnlein C, Cahill JF Jr, Casper BB, Cleland E, Collins SL, Dukes JS, Knapp AK, Lind E, Long R, Luo Y, Reich PB, Smith MD, Sternberg M, Turkington R (2013) Coordinated distributed experiments: an emerging tool for testing global hypotheses in ecology and environmental science. Front Ecol Environ 11:147–155CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Fry EL, Manning P, Allen DGP, Hurst A, Everwand G, Rimmler M, Power SA (2013) Plant functional group composition modifies the effects of precipitation change on grassland ecosystem function. PLoS ONE 8(2):e57027PubMedCentralPubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Fry EL, Power SA, Manning P (2014a) Trait-based classification and manipulation of plant functional groups for biodiversity and ecosystem function experiments. J Veg Sci 25:248–261CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Fry EL, Manning P, Power SA (2014b) Ecosystem functions are resistant to extreme changes to rainfall regimes in a mesotrophic grassland. Plant Soil 381:351–365CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Galloway JN, Dentener FJ, Capone DG, Boyer EW, Howarth RW, Seitzinger SP, Asner GP, Cleveland CC, Green PA, Holland EA, Karl DM, Michaels AF, Porter JH, Townsend AR, Vorosmarty CJ (2004) Nitrogen cycles: past, present, and future. Biogeochemistry 70:153–226CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Galloway JN, Townsend AR, Erisman JW, Bekunda M, Caiz C, Freney JR, Martinelli LA, Seitzinger SP, Sutton MA (2008) Transformation of the nitrogen cycle: recent trends, questions, and potential solutions. Science 320:889–892PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Grime JP, Brown VK, Thompson K, Masters GJ, Hillier SH, Clarke IP, Askew AP, Corker D, Kielty JP (2000) The response of two contrasting limestone grasslands to simulated climate change. Science 289:762–765PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Harper CW, Blair JM, Fay PA, Knapp AK, Carlisle JD (2005) Increased rainfall variability and reduced rainfall amount decreases soil CO2 flux in a grassland ecosystem. Glob Change Biol 11:322–334CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Harpole WS, Potts DL, Suding KN (2007) Ecosystem responses to water and nitrogen amendment in a California grassland. Glob Change Biol 13:2341–2348CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Hill MO, Mountford JO, Roy DB, Bunce RGH (1999) Ellenberg’s indicator values for British plants. ECOFACT Volume 2: technical annex. Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, UKGoogle Scholar
  30. Huberty AF, Denno RF (2004) Plant water stress and its consequences for herbivorous insects: a new synthesis. Ecology 85:1383–1398CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. IPCC (2007) Summary for policymakers. In: Solomon S, Qin D, Manning Z, Chen M, Marquis KB, Avery M, Tignor H, Miller L (eds) Climate change 2007: the physical science basis. Contribution of working group I to the fourth assessment report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, pp 12–18Google Scholar
  32. IPCC (2008) Climate change and water. Technical Paper of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, GenevaGoogle Scholar
  33. IPCC (2013) Summary for Policymakers. In: Stocker TF, Qin D, Plattner G-K, Tignor M, Allen SK, Boschung J, Nauels A, Xia Y, Bex V, Midgley PM (eds) Climate change 2013: the physical science basis contribution of working group I to the fifth assessment report of the intergovernmental panel on climate change. Cambridge University Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  34. Jentsch A, Kreyling J, Elmer M, Gellesch E, Glaser B, Grant K, Hein R, Lara M, Mirhae H, Nadler SE, Nagy L, Otieno D, Pritsch K, Rascher U, Schadler M, Schloter M, Singh BK, Stadler J, Walter J, Wellstein C, Wöllecke J, Beierkuhnlein C (2011) Climate extremes initiate ecosystem-regulating functions while maintaining productivity. J Ecol 99:689–702CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Kalapos T, Van den Boogaard R, Lambers H (1996) Effect of soil drying on growth, biomass allocation and leaf gas exchange of two annual grass species. Plant Soil 185:137–149CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Knapp AK, Smith MD (2001) Variation among biomes in temporal dynamics of aboveground primary production. Science 291:481–484PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Laporte M, Duchesne L, Wetzel S (2002) Effect of rainfall patterns on soil surface CO2 efflux, soil moisture, soil temperature and plant growth in a grassland ecosystem of northern Ontario, Canada: implications for climate change. BMC Ecol 2:10PubMedCentralPubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Lauenroth WK, Dodd JL, Sims PL (1978) The effects of water- and nitrogen-induced stresses on plant community structure in a semiarid grassland. Oecologia 36:211–222CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Lebauer DS, Treseder KK (2008) Nitrogen limitation of net primary productivity in terrestrial ecosystems is globally distributed. Ecology 89:371–379PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Lee M, Manning P, Rist J, Power SA, Marsh C (2010) A global comparison of grassland biomass responses to CO2 and nitrogen enrichment. Philos Trans R Soc Lond B 365:2047–2056CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Lindberg N, Bengtsson J (2005) Population responses of orbatid mites and collembolans after drought. Appl Soil Ecol 28:163–174CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Manning P (2012) The impact of nitrogen on ecosystems and their services. In: Wall DH, Bardgett RD, Behan-Pelletier V, Herrick JE, Jones H, Ritz K, Six J, Strong DR, van der Putten WH (eds) Soil ecology and ecosystem services. Oxford University Press, Oxford, pp 256–269CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Manning P, Putwain PD, Webb NR (2006) The role of soil phosphorus sorption characteristics in the functioning and stability of lowland heath ecosystems. Biogeochemistry 81:205–217CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Mattson WJ, Haack RA (1987) The role of drought in outbreaks of plant eating insects. Bioscience 37:110–118CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (2006) Ecosystems and human well being: synthesis report. Island Press, Washington, DCGoogle Scholar
  46. Morecroft MD, Masters GJ, Brown VK, Clarke IP, Taylor ME, Whitehouse AT (2004) Changing precipitation patterns alter plant community dynamics and succession in an ex-arable grassland. Funct Ecol 18:648–655CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Murphy JM, Sexton DMH, Jenkins GJ, Boorman PM, Booth BBB, Brown CC, Clark RT, Collins M, Harris GR, Kendon EJ, Betts RJ, Brown SJ, Howard TP, Humprey KA, Mccarthey MP, Mcdonald RE, Stephens A, Wallace C, Warren R, Wilby R, Wood RA (2009) UK Climate Projections Science Report: climate change projections. Met Office Hadley Centre, ExeterGoogle Scholar
  48. Rodwell JS (1992) British plant communities. Grasslands and montane communities, vol 3. Cambridge University Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  49. RoTAP (2011) Review of Transboundary Air Pollution (RoTAP), a review of acidification, eutrophication, heavy metals and ground-level ozone in the UK. Centre for Ecology and Hydrology. Available at www.rotap.ceh.ac.uk
  50. Sala OE, Chapin FS, Armesto JJ, Berlow E, Bloomfield J, Dirzo R, Huber-Sanwald E, Huenneke LF, Jackson RB, Kinzig A, Leemans R, Lodge DM, Mooney HA, Oesterheld M, Poff NL, Sykes MT, Walker BH, Walker M, Wall DH (2000) Biodiversity—Global biodiversity scenarios for the year 2100. Science 287:1770–1774PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Schenk HJ, Jackson RB (2002) Rooting depths, lateral root spreads and below-ground/above-ground allometries of plants in water-limited ecosystems. J Ecol 90:480–494CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Southon GE, Field C, Caporn SJM, Britton AJ, Power SA (2013) Nitrogen deposition reduces plant diversity and alters ecosystem functioning: field-scale evidence from a nationwide survey of UK heathlands. PLoS ONE 8(4):e59031PubMedCentralPubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Stevens CJ, Dise NB, Mountford JO, Gowing DJ (2004) Impact of nitrogen deposition on the species richness of grasslands. Science 303:1876–1879PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Stevens CJ, Dise NB, Gowing DJG, Mountford JO (2006) Loss of forb diversity in relation to nitrogen deposition in the UK: regional trends and potential controls. Glob Change Biol 12:1823–1833CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Stevens CJ, Manning P, Van den Berg LJL, De Graaf MCC, Wamelink GWW, Boxman AW, Bleeker A, Vergeer P, Arroniz-Crespo M, Limpens J, Lamers LPM, Bobbink R, Dorland E (2011) Ecosystem responses to reduced and oxidised nitrogen inputs in European terrestrial habitats. Environ Pollut 159:665–676PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Throop HL, Lerdau MT (2004) Effects of nitrogen deposition on insect herbivory: implications for community and ecosystem processes. Ecosystems 7:109–133CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Tilman D, Haddi A (1992) Drought and biodiversity in Grasslands. Oecologia 89:257–264CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Tooker JF, Hanks LM (2000) Flowering plant hosts of adult Hymenopteran parasitoids of central Illinois. Ann Entomol Soc Am 93:580–588CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Trumper K, Bertzky M, Dickson B, Van der Heijden G, Jenkins M, Manning P (2009) The natural fix? The role of ecosystems in climate mitigation. UNEP-WCMC. UNEP Rapid Response Assessment. United Nations Environment Programme, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  60. Tsialtas JT, Handley LL, Kassioumi MT, Veresoglou DS, Gagianas AA (2001) Interspecific variation in potential water-use efficiency and its relation to plant species abundance in a water-limited grassland. Funct Ecol 15:605–614CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Ward NL, Masters GJ (2007) Linking climate change and species invasion: an illustration using insect herbivores. Glob Change Biol 1:1605–1615CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Wilson EJ, Wells TCE, Sparks TH (1995) Are calcareous grasslands in the UK under threat from nitrogen deposition?—an experimental determination of a critical load. J Ecol 83:823–832CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. Wright IJ, Reich PB, Westoby M (2001) Strategy shifts in leaf physiology, structure and nutrient content between species of high- and low-rainfall and high- and low-nutrient habitats. Funct Ecol 15:423–434CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. Yahdjian L, Sala OE (2006) Vegetation structure constrains primary production response to water availability in the Patagonian steppe. Ecology 87:952–962PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  65. Zavaleta ES, Shaw MR, Chiariello NR, Thomas BD, Cleland EE, Field CB, Mooney HA (2003) Grassland responses to three years of elevated temperature, CO2, precipitation, and N deposition. Ecol Monogr 73:585–604CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Mark A. Lee
    • 1
    • 3
  • Pete Manning
    • 1
    • 4
  • Catherine S. Walker
    • 2
  • Sally A. Power
    • 1
    • 5
  1. 1.Division of Ecology and EvolutionImperial College LondonAscotUK
  2. 2.Centre for Environmental PolicyImperial College LondonAscotUK
  3. 3.Future Farming Systems, SRUCDumfriesUK
  4. 4.Institute for Plant SciencesUniversity of BernBernSwitzerland
  5. 5.Hawkesbury Institute for the EnvironmentUniversity of Western SydneyPenrithAustralia

Personalised recommendations