Impacts of Browsing and Grazing Ungulates on Soil Biota and Nutrient Dynamics

  • Judith SittersEmail author
  • Walter S. Andriuzzi
Part of the Ecological Studies book series (ECOLSTUD, volume 239)


Not only do browsing and grazing ungulates impact aboveground vegetation, they also have a strong impact on soil biota and nutrient cycling. Changes in belowground properties and processes may in turn impact aboveground vegetation through various mechanisms, among which availability of water or nutrients for plant growth, and eventually feedback on the ungulates themselves. The first part of this chapter reviews how browsing and grazing ungulates affect soil biota. New insights in cascading effects through soil food webs are highlighted, whereby attention is given to the consequences of these trophic interactions on plant communities and ecosystem functioning. The second part of this chapter focuses on the role of ungulates in nutrient cycling. Differences between the effects of browsers and grazers are reviewed and interpreted mechanistically, for instance in terms of chemical content of plant litter and waste products. The evidence presented questions the classical theory of herbivore-induced changes in resource quality and quantity, whereby browsers and grazers have been linked to deceleration and acceleration of nutrient cycling, respectively. The importance of alternative mechanisms in explaining the impact of browsing vs. grazing ungulates on nutrient cycling, such as soil compaction by trampling and lateral transport of nutrients, are discussed. The consequences of ungulate-induced shifts in nutrient dynamics and balances for plant growth and ecosystem functioning are highlighted.


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© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Ecology and Biodiversity, Department of Biology, Vrije Universiteit BrusselBrusselsBelgium
  2. 2.Department of Biology, School of Global Environmental SustainabilityColorado State UniversityFort CollinsUSA
  3. 3.Present Address: Nature Communications, Nature ResearchBerlinGermany

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