Nutrient enrichment increases invertebrate herbivory and pathogen damage in grasslands

Research output: Journal contributionsJournal articlesResearchpeer-review


  • Anne Ebeling
  • Alex T. Strauss
  • Peter B. Adler
  • Carlos A. Arnillas
  • Isabel C Barrio
  • Lori A. Biederman
  • Elizabeth T. Borer
  • Miguel N. Bugalho
  • Maria C Caldeira
  • Marc W. Cadotte
  • Pedro Daleo
  • Nico Eisenhauer
  • Anu Eskelinen
  • Philip A. Fay
  • Jennifer Firn
  • Pamela Graff
  • Nicole Hagenah
  • Kimberly J. Komatsu
  • Rebecca L McCulley
  • Charles E. Mitchell
  • Joslin L. Moore
  • Jesus Pascual
  • Pablo L. Peri
  • Sally A. Power
  • Suzanne M. Prober
  • Anita C Risch
  • Christiane Roscher
  • Mahesh Sankaran
  • Eric W Seabloom
  • Holger Schielzeth
  • Martin Schütz
  • Karina L. Speziale
  • Michelle Tedder
  • Risto Virtanen
  • Dana M. Blumenthal

Plant damage by invertebrate herbivores and pathogens influences the dynamics of grassland ecosystems, but anthropogenic changes in nitrogen and phosphorus availability can modify these relationships. Using a globally distributed experiment, we describe leaf damage on 153 plant taxa from 27 grasslands worldwide, under ambient conditions and with experimentally elevated nitrogen and phosphorus. Invertebrate damage significantly increased with nitrogen addition, especially in grasses and non-leguminous forbs. Pathogen damage increased with nitrogen in grasses and legumes but not forbs. Effects of phosphorus were generally weaker. Damage was higher in grasslands with more precipitation, but climatic conditions did not change effects of nutrients on leaf damage. On average, invertebrate damage was relatively higher on legumes and pathogen damage was relatively higher on grasses. Community-weighted mean damage reflected these functional group patterns, with no effects of N on community-weighted pathogen damage (due to opposing responses of grasses and forbs) but stronger effects of N on community-weighted invertebrate damage (due to consistent responses of grasses and forbs). Synthesis. As human-induced inputs of nitrogen and phosphorus continue to increase, understanding their impacts on invertebrate and pathogen damage becomes increasingly important. Our results demonstrate that eutrophication frequently increases plant damage and that damage increases with precipitation across a wide array of grasslands. Invertebrate and pathogen damage in grasslands is likely to increase in the future, with potential consequences for plant, invertebrate and pathogen communities, as well as the transfer of energy and nutrients across trophic levels.

Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Ecology
Issue number2
Pages (from-to)327-339
Number of pages13
Publication statusPublished - 01.02.2022
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

This work was conducted using data from the NutNet collaborative experiment, funded at the site scale by individual researchers. Coordination and data management have been supported by funding to E.B. and E.S. from the National Science Foundation Research Coordination Network (NSF-DEB-1042132) and Long Term Ecological Research (NSF-DEB-1234162 to Cedar Creek LTER) programmes, and the Institute on the Environment (DG-0001-13). We thank Eric Lind and Ashley Asmus for support in data management and preparation. We further thank Dan LeCain for organizing and shipping equipment, required for the add-on study, and Julie Kray for creating Figure 1. At the Mt Caroline site, we thank Georg Wiehl for assistance with data collection, Denise and Malcolm French, and the Terrestrial Ecosystems Research Network (TERN) Great Western Woodlands Supersite for support. Furthermore, we thank Rui Alves for the logistic support on the establishment of the Companhia das Lezírias site. For the Indian site, we thank Yadugiri V. T. for assistance with data collection. This manuscript is an outcome of a workshop kindly supported by sDiv, the Synthesis Centre of the German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research Halle-Jena-Leipzig (DFG FZT 118).

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 The Authors. Journal of Ecology published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd on behalf of British Ecological Society