Herbivory and eutrophication mediate grassland plant nutrient responses across a global climatic gradient

T. Michael Anderson, Daniel M. Griffith, James B. Grace, Eric M. Lind, Peter B. Adler, Lori A. Biederman, Dana M. Blumenthal, Pedro Daleo, Jennifer Firn, Nicole Hagenah, W. Stanley Harpole, Andrew S. MacDougall, Rebecca L. McCulley, Suzanne M. Prober, Anita C. Risch, Mahesh Sankaran, Martin Schütz, Eric W. Seabloom, Carly J. Stevens, Lauren L. SullivanPeter D. Wragg, Elizabeth T. Borer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

36 Scopus citations


Plant stoichiometry, the relative concentration of elements, is a key regulator of ecosystem functioning and is also being altered by human activities. In this paper we sought to understand the global drivers of plant stoichiometry and compare the relative contribution of climatic vs. anthropogenic effects. We addressed this goal by measuring plant elemental (C, N, P and K) responses to eutrophication and vertebrate herbivore exclusion at eighteen sites on six continents. Across sites, climate and atmospheric N deposition emerged as strong predictors of plot-level tissue nutrients, mediated by biomass and plant chemistry. Within sites, fertilization increased total plant nutrient pools, but results were contingent on soil fertility and the proportion of grass biomass relative to other functional types. Total plant nutrient pools diverged strongly in response to herbivore exclusion when fertilized; responses were largest in ungrazed plots at low rainfall, whereas herbivore grazing dampened the plant community nutrient responses to fertilization. Our study highlights (1) the importance of climate in determining plant nutrient concentrations mediated through effects on plant biomass, (2) that eutrophication affects grassland nutrient pools via both soil and atmospheric pathways and (3) that interactions among soils, herbivores and eutrophication drive plant nutrient responses at small scales, especially at water-limited sites.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)822-831
Number of pages10
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2018

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
A Wake Forest University pilot research grant to TM Anderson provided funding for lab analysis of nutrient concentrations. Jesse Nippert at KSU was instrumental in facilitating lab analysis. Data collection in Serengeti was supported by NSF-DEB 1145861 to TMA. This work was generated using data from the Nutrient Network (http://www.nutnet.org) experiment, funded at the site-scale by individual researchers. Coordination and data management have been supported by funding to E. Borer and E. Seabloom from the National Science Foundation Research Coordination Network (NSF-DEB-1042132) and Long Term Ecological Research (NSF-DEB-1234162 to Cedar Creek LTER) programs, and the Institute on the Environment (DG-0001-13). We also thank the Minnesota Supercomputer Institute for hosting project data and the Institute on the Environment at UMN and sDiv at the University of Leipzig for hosting Network meetings. A.S.M. was funded by NSERC and the University of Guelph’s CFREF project “Food from Thought”. JBG was supported by the USGS Ecosystems and Climate and Land use Change Programs. Any use of trade, firm, or product names is for descriptive purposes only and does not imply endorsement by the U.S. Government.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2018 by the Ecological Society of America


  • N deposition
  • Nutrient Network (NutNet)
  • climate
  • eutrophication
  • fencing
  • fertilizer
  • grasses
  • herbivores
  • nutrients
  • solar insolation
  • stoichiometry


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