Root traits predict decomposition across a landscape-scale grazing experiment

Stuart W. Smith, Sarah J. Woodin, Robin J. Pakeman, David Johnson, Rene Van Der Wal

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

35 Citations (Scopus)
3 Downloads (Pure)

Abstract

Summary
Root litter is the dominant soil carbon and nutrient input in many ecosystems, yet few studies have considered how root decomposition is regulated at the landscape scale and how this is mediated by land-use management practices. Large herbivores can potentially influence below-ground decomposition through changes in soil microclimate (temperature and moisture) and changes in plant species composition (root traits).
To investigate such herbivore-induced changes, we quantified annual root decomposition of upland grassland species in situ across a landscape-scale livestock grazing experiment, in a common-garden experiment and in laboratory microcosms evaluating the influence of key root traits on decomposition.
Livestock grazing increased soil temperatures, but this did not affect root decomposition. Grazing had no effect on soil moisture, but wetter soils retarded root decomposition. Species-specific decomposition rates were similar across all grazing treatments, and species differences were maintained in the common-garden experiment, suggesting an overriding importance of litter type. Supporting this, in microcosms, roots with lower specific root area (m2 g−1) or those with higher phosphorus concentrations decomposed faster.
Our results suggest that large herbivores alter below-ground carbon and nitrogen dynamics more through their effects on plant species composition and associated root traits than through effects on the soil microclimate.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)851-862
Number of pages12
JournalNew Phytologist
Volume203
Issue number3
Early online date20 May 2014
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2014

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Soil
grazing
Herbivory
degradation
Microclimate
Livestock
herbivores
microclimate
Carbon
gardens
soil
livestock
Temperature
Practice Management
species diversity
land use planning
carbon
Phosphorus
Ecosystem
interspecific variation

Keywords

  • carbon (C)
  • grassland
  • grazing
  • nitrogen (N)
  • plant traits
  • root decomposition
  • soil moisture
  • soil temperature

Cite this

Root traits predict decomposition across a landscape-scale grazing experiment. / Smith, Stuart W.; Woodin, Sarah J.; Pakeman, Robin J.; Johnson, David; Van Der Wal, Rene.

In: New Phytologist, Vol. 203, No. 3, 08.2014, p. 851-862.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Smith, Stuart W. ; Woodin, Sarah J. ; Pakeman, Robin J. ; Johnson, David ; Van Der Wal, Rene. / Root traits predict decomposition across a landscape-scale grazing experiment. In: New Phytologist. 2014 ; Vol. 203, No. 3. pp. 851-862.
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note = "Acknowledgements We are grateful to the Woodland Trust for maintenance of and access to the Glen Finglas experiment. We thank Debbie Fielding, William Smith, Sarah McCormack, Allan Sim, Marcel Junker and Elaine Runge for help in the field and the laboratory. This research was part of the Glen Finglas project (formerly Grazing and Upland Birds (GRUB)) funded by the Scottish Government (RERAS). S.W.S. was funded by a BBSRC studentship.",
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AU - Johnson, David

AU - Van Der Wal, Rene

N1 - Acknowledgements We are grateful to the Woodland Trust for maintenance of and access to the Glen Finglas experiment. We thank Debbie Fielding, William Smith, Sarah McCormack, Allan Sim, Marcel Junker and Elaine Runge for help in the field and the laboratory. This research was part of the Glen Finglas project (formerly Grazing and Upland Birds (GRUB)) funded by the Scottish Government (RERAS). S.W.S. was funded by a BBSRC studentship.

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N2 - SummaryRoot litter is the dominant soil carbon and nutrient input in many ecosystems, yet few studies have considered how root decomposition is regulated at the landscape scale and how this is mediated by land-use management practices. Large herbivores can potentially influence below-ground decomposition through changes in soil microclimate (temperature and moisture) and changes in plant species composition (root traits).To investigate such herbivore-induced changes, we quantified annual root decomposition of upland grassland species in situ across a landscape-scale livestock grazing experiment, in a common-garden experiment and in laboratory microcosms evaluating the influence of key root traits on decomposition.Livestock grazing increased soil temperatures, but this did not affect root decomposition. Grazing had no effect on soil moisture, but wetter soils retarded root decomposition. Species-specific decomposition rates were similar across all grazing treatments, and species differences were maintained in the common-garden experiment, suggesting an overriding importance of litter type. Supporting this, in microcosms, roots with lower specific root area (m2 g−1) or those with higher phosphorus concentrations decomposed faster.Our results suggest that large herbivores alter below-ground carbon and nitrogen dynamics more through their effects on plant species composition and associated root traits than through effects on the soil microclimate.

AB - SummaryRoot litter is the dominant soil carbon and nutrient input in many ecosystems, yet few studies have considered how root decomposition is regulated at the landscape scale and how this is mediated by land-use management practices. Large herbivores can potentially influence below-ground decomposition through changes in soil microclimate (temperature and moisture) and changes in plant species composition (root traits).To investigate such herbivore-induced changes, we quantified annual root decomposition of upland grassland species in situ across a landscape-scale livestock grazing experiment, in a common-garden experiment and in laboratory microcosms evaluating the influence of key root traits on decomposition.Livestock grazing increased soil temperatures, but this did not affect root decomposition. Grazing had no effect on soil moisture, but wetter soils retarded root decomposition. Species-specific decomposition rates were similar across all grazing treatments, and species differences were maintained in the common-garden experiment, suggesting an overriding importance of litter type. Supporting this, in microcosms, roots with lower specific root area (m2 g−1) or those with higher phosphorus concentrations decomposed faster.Our results suggest that large herbivores alter below-ground carbon and nitrogen dynamics more through their effects on plant species composition and associated root traits than through effects on the soil microclimate.

KW - carbon (C)

KW - grassland

KW - grazing

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KW - plant traits

KW - root decomposition

KW - soil moisture

KW - soil temperature

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