University of Oulu

Borer, E.T., Harpole, W.S., Adler, P.B. et al. Nutrients cause grassland biomass to outpace herbivory. Nat Commun 11, 6036 (2020).

Nutrients cause grassland biomass to outpace herbivory

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Author: Borer, E. T.1; Harpole, W. S.2,3,4; Adler, P. B.5,6;
Organizations: 1Univ Minnesota, Dept Ecol Evolut & Behav, St Paul, MN 55108 USA.
2UFZ Helmholtz Ctr Environm Res, Dept Physiol Div, Permoserstr 15, D-04318 Leipzig, Germany.
3German Ctr Integrat Biodivers Res iDiv, Deutsch Pl 5e, D-04103 Leipzig, Germany.
4Martin Luther Univ Halle Wittenberg, Kirchtor 1, Halle, Saale, Germany.
5Utah State Univ, Dept Wildland Resources, Logan, UT 84322 USA.
6Utah State Univ, Ecol Ctr, Logan, UT 84322 USA.
7Univ Toronto Scarborough, Dept Phys & Environm Sci, Toronto, ON, Canada.
8Univ Lisbon, Sch Agr, Ctr Appl Ecol CEABN InBIO, Lisbon, Portugal.
9Univ Toronto Scarborough, Dept Biol Sci, Toronto, ON, Canada.
10Univ Lisbon, Sch Agr, Forest Res Ctr, Lisbon, Portugal.
11Univ Buenos Aires, Fac Agron, IFEVA, CONICET, Buenos Aires, DF, Argentina.
12Univ Sydney, Sch Life & Environm Sci, Sydney, NSW, Australia.
13Univ Nebraska, Dept Biol, Omaha, NE 68182 USA.
14Trinity Coll Dublin, Sch Nat Sci, Dept Zool, Dublin, Ireland.
15Univ Oulu, Dept Ecol & Genet, Oulu, Finland.
16Queensland Univ Technol, Sch Earth Environm & Biol Sci, Brisbane, Qld, Australia.
17Univ Maryland, Dept Entomol, College Pk, MD 20742 USA.
18Univ N Carolina, Dept Biol, Chapel Hill, NC 27515 USA.
19Univ Texas Austin, Dept Integrat Biol, Austin, TX 78712 USA.
20Washington Univ, Dept Biol, Campus Box 1137, St Louis, MO 63130 USA.
21Smithsonian Environm Res Ctr, POB 28, Edgewater, MD 21037 USA.
22Sao Paulo State Univ UNESP, Dept Biol & Anim Sci, Sao Paulo, Brazil.
23Univ Guelph, Dept Integrat Biol, Guelph, ON, Canada.
24Texas State Univ, Dept Biol, San Marcos, TX USA.
25Monash Univ, Sch Biol Sci, Clayton Campus, Clayton, Vic, Australia.
26Benedictine Coll, Dept Biol, Atchison, KS 66002 USA.
27Univ Cadiz, Dept Biol, IVAGRO, Cadiz, Spain.
28Vrije Univ Brussel, Dept Biol, Brussels, Belgium.
29Western Sydney Univ, Hawkesbury Inst Environm, Richmond, NSW, Australia.
30Charles Sturt Univ, Inst Land Water & Soc, Albury, NSW, Australia.
31Swiss Fed Inst Forest Snow & Landscape Res, Birmensdorf, Switzerland.
32Natl Ctr Biol Sci, TIFR, Bengaluru, India.
33Univ Leeds, Sch Biol, Leeds, W Yorkshire, England.
34Univ Lancaster, Lancaster Environm Ctr, Lancaster, England.
35Univ Bayreuth, Dept Disturbance Ecol, Bayreuth, Germany.
Format: article
Version: published version
Access: open
Online Access: PDF Full Text (PDF, 1.4 MB)
Persistent link:
Language: English
Published: Springer Nature, 2020
Publish Date: 2021-03-10


Human activities are transforming grassland biomass via changing climate, elemental nutrients, and herbivory. Theory predicts that food-limited herbivores will consume any additional biomass stimulated by nutrient inputs (‘consumer-controlled’). Alternatively, nutrient supply is predicted to increase biomass where herbivores alter community composition or are limited by factors other than food (‘resource-controlled’). Using an experiment replicated in 58 grasslands spanning six continents, we show that nutrient addition and vertebrate herbivore exclusion each caused sustained increases in aboveground live biomass over a decade, but consumer control was weak. However, at sites with high vertebrate grazing intensity or domestic livestock, herbivores consumed the additional fertilization-induced biomass, supporting the consumer-controlled prediction. Herbivores most effectively reduced the additional live biomass at sites with low precipitation or high ambient soil nitrogen. Overall, these experimental results suggest that grassland biomass will outstrip wild herbivore control as human activities increase elemental nutrient supply, with widespread consequences for grazing and fire risk.

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Series: Nature communications
ISSN: 2041-1723
ISSN-E: 2041-1723
ISSN-L: 2041-1723
Volume: 11
Issue: 1
Article number: 6036
DOI: 10.1038/s41467-020-19870-y
Type of Publication: A1 Journal article – refereed
Field of Science: 1181 Ecology, evolutionary biology
Funding: This work was generated using data from the Nutrient Network ( experiment, funded at the site scale by individual researchers. Author contributions are detailed in the “Author contributions” section and Supplementary Table 5; Supplementary Table 6 lists all data contributors who are not authors. Coordination and data management have been supported by funding to E.T.B and E.W.S. from the National Science Foundation Research Coordination Network (NSF-DEB-1042132) and Long-Term Ecological Research (NSF-DEB-1234162 and NSF-DEB-1831944 to Cedar Creek LTER) programs, and the Institute on the Environment (DG-0001-13).
Copyright information: © The Author(s) 2020, corrected publication 2021. This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which permits use, sharing, adaptation, distribution and reproduction in any medium or format, as long as you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made. The images or other third party material in this article are included in the article’s Creative Commons license, unless indicated otherwise in a credit line to the material. If material is not included in the article’s Creative Commons license and your intended use is not permitted by statutory regulation or exceeds the permitted use, you will need to obtain permission directly from the copyright holder. To view a copy of this license, visit