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Tree physiological responses to above-ground herbivory directly modify below-ground processes of soil carbon and nitrogen cycling.

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal article

Published

Journal publication date06/2004
JournalEcology Letters
Journal number6
Volume7
Number of pages11
Pages469-479
Original languageEnglish

Abstract

Above-ground herbivory is ubiquitous in terrestrial ecosystems, yet its impacts on below-ground processes and consequences for plants remain ambiguous. To examine whether physiological responses of individual trees may potentially modify soil nutrient availability, we subjected Fagus sylvatica L. (European beech) and Abies alba Mill. (silver fir) to simulated foliar herbivory over two growing seasons. Above-ground herbivory enhanced N mineralization and inorganic N availability in the soil. The total input of C from the plant roots to the soil is not known; however, carbon sequestration in the soil, measured using stable isotopic techniques, was unaffected by herbivory. Fagus responded to herbivory by producing larger leaves, with increased photosynthetic capacity and N content, which largely compensated for the loss of biomass; Abies exhibited no such response. We conclude that despite large interspecific differences in the growth response, tree physiological responses to foliar herbivory are capable of directly modifying soil biological processes.