|Title||Invertebrate, not small vertebrate, herbivory interacts with nutrient availability to impact tallgrass prairie community composition and forb biomass|
|Publication Type||Journal Article|
|Year of Publication||2015|
|Authors||La Pierre, KJ, Joern, A, Smith, MD|
The effects of herbivores and their interactions with nutrient availability on primary production and plant community composition in grassland systems is expected to vary with herbivore type. We examined the effects of invertebrate and small vertebrate herbivores and their interactions with nutrient availability on grassland plant community composition and aboveground biomass in a tallgrass prairie ecosystem. The abundance of forbs relative to grasses increased with invertebrate herbivore removals. This increase in forb abundance led to a shift in community composition, where invertebrate removals resulted in greater plant species evenness as well as a divergence in composition among plots. In contrast, vertebrate herbivore removals did not affect plant community composition or aboveground biomass. Nutrient additions alone resulted in a decrease in plant species richness and an increase in the abundance of the dominant grass, but the dominant grass species did not greatly increase in abundance when nutrient additions were combined with invertebrate removals. Rather, several subdominant forbs came to dominate the plant community. Additionally, the combined nutrient addition and invertebrate herbivore removal treatment increased forb biomass, suggesting that invertebrate herbivores suppress the responses of forb species to chronic nutrient additions. Overall, the release of forbs from invertebrate herbivore pressure may result in large shifts in species composition, with consequences for aboveground biomass and forage quality due to altered grass:forb ratios in grassland systems.