Dominant and non-dominant plants could be subject to different biotic and abiotic influences, partially because dominant plants modify the environment where non-dominant plants grow, causing an interaction asymmetry. Among other possibilities, if dominant plants compete strongly, they should deplete most resources forcing non-dominant plants into a more constrained niche space. Conversely, if dominant plants are constrained by the environment, they might not fully deplete available resources but instead ameliorate some of the environmental constraints limiting non-dominants. Hence, the nature of the interactions between the non-dominants could be modified by dominant species. However, when plant competition and environmental constraints have similar effects on dominant and non-dominant species no difference is expected. By estimating phylogenetic dispersion in 78 grasslands across five continents, we found that dominant species were clustered (underdispersed), suggesting dominant species are likely organized by environmental filtering, and that non-dominant species were either randomly assembled or overdispersed. Traits showed similar trends, but insufficient data prevented further analyses. Furthermore, several lineages scattered in the phylogeny had more non-dominant species, suggesting that traits related to non-dominants are phylogenetically conserved and have evolved multiple times. We found some environmental drivers of the dominant—non-dominant disparity. Our results indicate that assembly patterns for dominants and non-dominants are different, consistent with asymmetries in assembly mechanisms. Among the different mechanisms we evaluated, the results suggest two complementary hypotheses seldom explored: (1) Non-dominant species include lineages adapted to thrive in the environment generated by the dominant species. (2) Even when dominant species reduce resources to non-dominant ones, dominant species could have a stronger effect on—at least—some non-dominants by ameliorating the impact of the environment on them, than by depleting resources and increasing the environmental stress to those non-dominants. The results show that the dominant–non-dominant asymmetry has ecological and evolutionary consequences fundamental to understand plant communities.
Nutrients and herbivores have independent effects on the temporal stability of aboveground biomass in grasslands; however, their joint effects may not be additive and may also depend on spatial scales. In an experiment adding nutrients and excluding herbivores in 34 globally distributed grasslands, we found that nutrients and herbivores mainly had additive effects. Nutrient addition consistently reduced stability at the local and larger spatial scales (aggregated local communities), while herbivore exclusion weakly reduced stability at these scales. Moreover, nutrient addition reduced stability primarily by causing changes in local community composition over time and by reducing local species richness and evenness. In contrast, herbivore exclusion weakly reduced stability at the larger scale mainly by decreasing asynchronous dynamics among local communities, but also by weakly decreasing local species richness. Our findings indicate disentangling the influences of processes operating at different spatial scales may improve conservation and management in stabilizing grassland biomass.
To predict plant responses under climate change, we need to understand how thermal conditions and herbivory contribute to shoot growth. Here, we used empirical dynamic modelling (EDM) to analyse an 18-year time series from an experimental system at the forest-tundra ecotone to identify relationships between growth, climate, insect herbivores, browsers and ramet age. We found that negative effects of insect herbivory on willow shoot growth are intensified during warmer years. Moreover, the negative effect of insect herbivores was moderated by ramet age, but this moderation was only realized in the absence of vertebrate herbivores – under browsing by both ptarmigans and reindeer, the positive effects of ramet age were eliminated. Jointly, these results demonstrate the context-dependent and dynamic effects of climate and multiple herbivores on shoot growth, and improve our ability to predict effects of climatic warming in arctic environments.