Feces nitrogen release induced by different large herbivores in a dry grassland:

Jingzhi Wang, Deli Wang, Chunqiang Li, Timothy R. Seastedt, Cunzhu Liang, Ling Wang, Wei Sun, Maowei Liang, Yu Li

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

33 Scopus citations

Abstract

Large herbivores have pronounced effects on nutrient cycling in grasslands. These organisms are known to alter the quality and quantity of plant production as well as the amounts and quality of plant litter and animal wastes. The generalization that the relative quality of detritus inputs is enhanced by herbivores is well known, but how this process is affected by diet selection processing and feces production of different large herbivores remains largely unstudied. Here, we measured how these differences for cattle and sheep on a dry grassland might influence nitrogen (N) mineralization from feces. We found that cattle of larger body size tended to select the low quality grass Stipa grandis as their major food source. In contrast, the subdominant grass Leymus chinensis, with relatively high N content, was a majority in the diet of smaller sheep, when palatable forbs were insufficient in the field. This diverse diet quality resulted in a C:N ratio of cattle feces that was higher than that of sheep feces. Relatively higher labile C availability in the cattle feces, namely relatively higher cellulose/hemicellulose contents, promoted microbial growth and in turn accelerated cattle feces decomposition. A surprise finding was that the feces from cattle mineralized about twice as much N as feces from sheep, despite the latter having slightly higher N content. From a grassland productivity perspective, increasing the proportion of large body-sized species in grazing herbivore assemblages perhaps is beneficial to forage productivity and nutrient recycling by the rapid degradation of feces.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)201-211
Number of pages11
JournalEcological Applications
Volume28
Issue number1
DOIs
StatePublished - Jan 2018
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We thank Wanwan Lu for help with the fieldwork. This project was supported by National Natural Science Foundation of China (31230012), the National Key Research and Development Program of China (2016YFC0500602), and the National Key Technology Support Program (2013BAC09B03), the Program for Introducing Talents to Universities (B16011) and the Program for Innovative Research Team in University (IRT-16R11).

Publisher Copyright:
© 2017 by the Ecological Society of America.

Keywords

  • cattle
  • diet selection
  • feces decomposition
  • N cycling
  • N mineralization
  • sheep

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