Drought and small-bodied herbivores modify nutrient cycling in the semi-arid shortgrass steppe
- 35 Downloads
Climate change will increase the frequency of droughts over the next century, with severe consequences for ecosystem function in semi-arid grasslands. The shortgrass steppe (SGS) experiences some of the largest interannual variation in precipitation among terrestrial biomes and exhibits extremely high sensitivity to drought. Yet despite decades of research describing the consequences of drought for ecosystem function in the SGS, we currently have little information regarding the impact of drought on bioavailability of important nutrients other than nitrogen, the contribution of herbivores to bioavailable concentrations of these nutrients, and whether drought alters herbivore-derived nutrient cycling. To quantify the impacts of long-term drought and small-bodied herbivores on nutrient cycling and aboveground net primary production (ANPP), we factorially manipulated rainfall and herbivore presence in the SGS of northern Colorado. Specifically, we measured the impacts of drought and herbivores on bioavailability of ten important nutrients: aluminum, calcium, iron, potassium, magnesium, manganese, nitrate, phosphorus, sulfur, and zinc. We then correlated these nutrients with grass production to determine whether reduced plant growth under drought conditions causes a belowground buildup of nutrients. Drought reduced ANPP as expected, and also altered concentrations of many nutrients apart from N, which clustered in their drought response. In contrast, small-bodied herbivores did not affect ANPP or soil N. However, they did contribute to the bioavailable soil concentrations of two important nutrients: PO4-P and S. Importantly, drought generally did not modify the contribution of herbivores to nutrient cycling, suggesting that herbivores might be a critical component of biogeochemical cycling regardless of precipitation in semi-arid grasslands.
KeywordsBiogeochemistry Ecosystem function Grasshoppers Grasslands Climate change
We are very grateful for the dedicated and hardworking undergraduates of Colorado State: Abigail Lock, Madison Rode, Holly Perretta, Megan Coyle, Abby Lathrop-Melting, and Sam Rollman, who helped construct cages in a subfreezing April snowstorm, harvest biomass around cacti, and sort dried plant material in the lab. We also thank the EDGE crew: John Dietrich, Maddie Shields, Lauren Bauer, Ava Hoffman, Mao Wei, Tyler Roberts, Gene Halsey, Elsie Denton, and Melissa Johnson, who were responsible for maintaining the drought shelters each year and who helped us deploy insect cages. This work was supported by a United States Department of Agriculture—National Institute of Food and Agriculture—Agriculture and Food Research Initiative postdoctoral fellowship (Grant No. 2016-67012-25169) and an NSF DEB award (1754124) to NPL, as well as an NSF DEB Macrosystems grant to MDS.
- Fay PA, Prober SM, Harpole WS, Knops JMH, Bakker JD, Borer ET, Lind EM, MacDougall AS, Seabloom EW, Wragg PD, Adler PB, Blumenthal DM, Buckley YM, Chu C, Cleland EE, Collins SL, Davies KF, Du G, Feng X, Firn J, Gruner DS, Hagenah N, Hautier Y, Heckman RW, Jin VL, Kirkman KP, Klein J, Ladwig LM, Li Q, McCulley RL, Melbourne BA, Mitchell CE, Moore JL, Morgan JW, Risch AC, Schütz M, Stevens CJ, Wedin DA, Yang LH (2015) Grassland productivity limited by multiple nutrients. Nat Plants 1:1–5Google Scholar
- IPCC (2014) Summary for policymakers. In: Field CB, Barros V, Stocker TF, Qin D, Dokken DJ, Ebi KL, Mastrandrea MD, Mach KJ, Plattner G-K, Allen SK, Tignor M, Midgley PM (eds) Managing the risks of extreme events and disasters to advance climate change adaptation A species report of working groups I and II of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, pp 1–19Google Scholar
- Jones E, Oliphant TE, Peterson P, et al (2001) SciPy: open source scientific tools for Python. www.scipy.org
- McKinney W (2010) Data structures for statistical computing in Python. In: Proceedings of 9th Python science conference, pp 51–56Google Scholar
- Metcalf DB, Asner GP, Martin RE, Espejo JES, Huasco WH, Amézquita FFF, Carranza-Jimenez L, Cabrera DFG, Baca LD, Sinca F, Quispe LPH, Taype IA, Mora LE, Dávila AR, Solórzano MM, Vilca BLP, Román JML, Bustios PCG, Revilla NS, Tupayachi R, Girardin CAJ, Doughty CE, Malhi Y (2014) Herbivory makes major contributions to ecosystem carbon and nutrient cycling in tropical forests. Ecol Lett 17:324–332CrossRefGoogle Scholar
- Reynolds BC, Hunter MD, Crossley DA (2000) Effects of canopy herbivory on nutrient cycling in a northern hardwood forest. Selbyana 21:74–78Google Scholar
- Stan Development Team (2016) Stan: a C++ library for probability and sampling, version 2.14. http://www.mc-org/
- Welch JL, Redak R, Kondratieff BC (1991) Effect of cattle grazing on the density and species of grasshoppers (Orthopter: Acrididae) of the Central Plains Experimental Range, Colorado: a reassessment after two decades. J Kansas Entomol Soc 64:337–343Google Scholar