ECOLOGY: Eats, Leaves and Roots

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Science  11 Jun 2004:
Vol. 304, Issue 5677, pp. 1567c
DOI: 10.1126/science.304.5677.1567c

It is becoming increasingly evident that leaf-eating herbivores can exert influences on soil biology and chemistry. In particular, herbivore pressure can alter patterns of nutrient cycling by changing carbon inputs to the soil, thereby influencing microbial biomass and nitrogen mineralization. However, the mechanisms linking above-ground herbivory to below-ground processes are often obscure. Ayres et al. performed mesocosm experiments in which they simulated herbivory by clipping leaves of beech and fir seedlings and monitored the effects on soil biota and nutrient dynamics over two growing seasons. The two species had different responses: Beech, but not fir, responded to simulated herbivory by increasing leaf production and photosynthetic rate; conversely, fine root biomass in fir, but not beech, was reduced by the treatment. In both cases, however, simulated herbivory led to increased N mineralization in the soil, indicating that physiological responses mediated through plant roots can directly affect nutrient dynamics. — AMS

Ecol. Lett. 7, 469 (2004).

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