An integrated perspective to explain nitrogen mineralization in grazed ecosystems

Author: 
Schrama, G F Maarten
S, E
Ruifrok, Jasper L
Bakker, Jan P
Olff, Han
Publisher: 
Perspectives in Plant Ecology, Evolution and Systematics
Publication Year: 
2013
Description: 
Large herbivores are key drivers of nutrient cycling in ecosystems worldwide, and hence they have an important influence on the productivity and species composition in plant communities. Classical theories describe that large herbivores can accelerate or decelerate nitrogen (N) mineralization by altering the quality and quantity of resource input (e.g. dung, urine, plant litter) into the soil food web. However, in many situations the impact of herbivores on N mineralization cannot be explained by changes in resource quality and quantity. In this paper, we aim to reconcile observations of herbivores on N mineralization that were previously regarded as contradictory. We conceptually integrate alternative pathways via which herbivores can alter N mineralization. We illustrate our new integrated perspective by using herbivore-induced soil compaction and subsequent changes in soil moisture and soil aeration as an example. We show that the net effect of herbivores on mineralization depends on the balance between herbivore-induced changes in soil physical properties and changes in the quality and quantity of resource input into the soil food web. For example, soil compaction by herbivores can limit oxygen or water availability in wet and dry soils respectively, particularly those with a fine texture. This can result in a reduction in N mineralization regardless of changes in resource quality or quantity. In such systems the plant community will shift towards species that are adapted to waterlogging (anoxia) or drought, respectively. In contrast, soils with intermediate moisture levels are less sensitive to compaction. In these soils, N mineralization rates are primarily associated with changes in resource quality and quantity. We conclude that our integrated perspective will help us to better understand when herbivores accelerate or decelerate soil nutrient cycling and improve our understanding of the functioning of grazed ecosystems.
Name of Journal: 
Perspectives in Plant Ecology, Evolution and Systematics
Volume: 
15
Number: 
1
Pages: 
32-44
Resource Type: 
Text
Document Type: 
Journal Issue/Article
Grassland Society of Southern Africa

The Grassland Society of Southern Africa (GSSA) is involved and concerned with the science and practice of range and pasture management. This broad field involves primarily the use and conservation of natural resources. It encompasses applied fields such as livestock production, wildlife management, nature conservation, water catchment management and range and mine-dump rehabilitation. The disciplines include, amongst others, ecology, botany zoology, range and pasture science, animal science, soil science and genetics. This collection includes journal articles from the African Journal of Range and Forage Science as well as related articles and reports from throughout the Southern African region.