Cascading effects of long-term land-use changes on plant traits and ecosystem functioning

Laliberté, Etienne
Tylianakis, Jason M
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There is much concern that the functioning of ecosystems will be affected by human-induced changes in biodiversity, of which land-use change is the most important driver. However, changes in biodiversity may be only one of many pathways through which land use alters ecosystem functioning, and its importance relative to other pathways remains unclear. In particular, although biodiversity–ecosystem function research has focused primarily on grasslands, the increases in agricultural inputs (e.g., fertilization, irrigation) and grazing pressure that drive change in grasslands worldwide have been largely ignored. Here we show that long-term (27-year) manipulations of soil resource availability and sheep grazing intensity caused marked, consistent shifts in grassland plant functional composition and diversity, with cascading (i.e., causal chains of) direct, indirect, and interactive effects on multiple ecosystem functions. Resource availability exerted dominant control over aboveground net primary production (ANPP), both directly and indirectly via shifts in plant functional composition. Importantly, the effects of plant functional diversity and grazing intensity on ANPP shifted from negative to positive as agricultural inputs increased, providing strong evidence that soil resource availability modulates the impacts of plant diversity and herbivory on primary production. These changes in turn altered litter decomposition and, ultimately, soil carbon sequestration, highlighting the relevance of ANPP as a key integrator of ecosystem functioning. Our study reveals how human alterations of bottom-up (resources) and top-down (herbivory) forces together interact to control the functioning of grazing systems, the most extensive land use on Earth.
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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.