Bunchgrasses are one of the most important plant functional groups in grassland ecosystems. Reproductive allocation (RA) for a bunchgrass is a hierarchical process; however, how bunchgrasses adjust their RAs along hierarchical levels in response to nutrient addition has never been addressed. Here, utilizing an 11-year nutrient addition experiment, we examined the patterns and variations in RA of Agropyron cristatum at the individual, tiller and spike levels. We evaluated the reproductive allometric relationship at each level by type II regression analysis to determine size-dependent and size-independent effects on plant RA variations. Our results indicate that the proportion of reproductive individuals in A. cristatum increased significantly after 11 years of nutrient addition. Adjustments in RA in A. cristatum were mainly occurred at the individual and tiller levels but not at the spike level. A size-dependent effect was a dominant mechanism underlying the changes in plant RA at both individual and tiller levels. Likewise, the distribution of plant size was markedly changed with large individuals increasing after nutrient addition. Tiller-level RA may be a limiting factor for the adjustment of RA in A. cristatum. To the best of our knowledge, this study is the first to examine plant responses in terms of reproductive allocation and allometry to nutrient enrichment within a bunchgrass population from a hierarchical view. Our findings have important implications for understanding the mechanisms underlying bunchgrass responses in RA to future eutrophication due to human activities. In addition, we developed a hierarchical analysis method for disentangling the mechanisms that lead to variation in RA for perennial bunchgrasses.
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