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1.  Contrasting Effects of Different Mammalian Herbivores on Sagebrush Plant Communities 
PLoS ONE  2015;10(2):e0118016.
Herbivory by both grazing and browsing ungulates shapes the structure and functioning of terrestrial ecosystems worldwide, and both types of herbivory have been implicated in major ecosystem state changes. Despite the ecological consequences of differences in diets and feeding habits among herbivores, studies that experimentally distinguish effects of grazing from spatially co-occurring, but temporally segregated browsing are extremely rare. Here we use a set of long-term exclosures in northern Utah, USA, to determine how domestic grazers vs. wild ungulate herbivores (including browsers and mixed feeders) affect sagebrush-dominated plant communities that historically covered ~62 million ha in North America. We sampled plant community properties and found that after 22 years grazing and browsing elicited perceptible changes in overall plant community composition and distinct responses by individual plant species. In the woody layer of the plant community, release from winter and spring wild ungulate herbivory increased densities of larger Wyoming big sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata, ssp. wyomingensis) at the expense of small sagebrush, while disturbance associated with either cattle or wild ungulate activity alone was sufficient to increase bare ground and reduce cover of biological soil crusts. The perennial bunchgrass, bottlebrush squirretail (Elymus elymoides), responded positively to release from summer cattle grazing, and in turn appeared to competitively suppress another more grazing tolerant perennial grass, Sandberg’s blue grass (Poa secunda). Grazing by domestic cattle also was associated with increased non-native species biomass. Together, these results illustrate that ungulate herbivory has not caused sagebrush plant communities to undergo dramatic state shifts; however clear, herbivore-driven shifts are evident. In a dry, perennial-dominated system where plant community changes can occur very slowly, our results provide insights into potential long-term trajectories of these plant communities under different large herbivore regimes. Our results can be used to guide long-term management strategies for sagebrush systems and improve habitat for endemic wildlife species such as sage-grouse (Centrocercus spp.).
PMCID: PMC4324772  PMID: 25671428
2.  Herbaceous Forage and Selection Patterns by Ungulates across Varying Herbivore Assemblages in a South African Savanna 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(12):e82831.
Herbivores generally have strong structural and compositional effects on vegetation, which in turn determines the plant forage species available. We investigated how selected large mammalian herbivore assemblages use and alter herbaceous vegetation structure and composition in a southern African savanna in and adjacent to the Kruger National Park, South Africa. We compared mixed and mono-specific herbivore assemblages of varying density and investigated similarities in vegetation patterns under wildlife and livestock herbivory. Grass species composition differed significantly, standing biomass and grass height were almost twice as high at sites of low density compared to high density mixed wildlife species. Selection of various grass species by herbivores was positively correlated with greenness, nutrient content and palatability. Nutrient-rich Urochloa mosambicensis Hack. and Panicum maximum Jacq. grasses were preferred forage species, which significantly differed in abundance across sites of varying grazing pressure. Green grasses growing beneath trees were grazed more frequently than dry grasses growing in the open. Our results indicate that grazing herbivores appear to base their grass species preferences on nutrient content cues and that a characteristic grass species abundance and herb layer structure can be matched with mammalian herbivory types.
PMCID: PMC3865094  PMID: 24358228
3.  Impacts of seedling herbivory on plant competition and implications for species coexistence 
Annals of Botany  2009;103(8):1347-1353.
Background and Aims
Although the causes and consequences of seedling herbivory for plant community composition are well understood, the mechanisms by which herbivores influence plant species recruitment to the established phase remain less clear. The aim was to examine how variation in the intensity of seedling herbivory interacts with growth-defence trade-offs and herbivore feeding preferences to affect plant community development.
Using 14-d-old seedlings of Trifolium pratense and T. repens, relative growth and susceptibility to herbivory by the snail Helix aspersa was quantified to elucidate putative growth-defence trade-offs for these species. Then mixed assemblages of 14-d-old Trifolium seedlings were exposed to herbivory by zero, two, five or ten snails and determined how variation in the intensity of herbivory affected competitive interactions into the mature phase (as measured by total plant biomass at 120 d old).
Key Results
In the absence of herbivory, communities were dominated by T. pratense; a result expected on the basis that it yielded larger and presumably more competitive seedlings. However, when seedlings were exposed to herbivory, the balance of competition shifted. At low levels of herbivory (two snails), both Trifolium species contributed equally to total plant biomass. More intense herbivory (five snails) resulted in almost total mortality of T. pratense and dominance of the mature community by T. repens. The most intense herbivory (ten snails) effectively removed all seedlings from the experimental community.
The study illustrates a mechanism whereby spatio-temporal fluctuations in seedling herbivory, when coupled with species-specific variation in competitive ability and sensitivity to herbivore attack, can differentially influence plant recruitment into the mature phase. This mechanism may be a key element in our attempts to understand plant species coexistence, since fluctuations in plant recruitment are fundamental to the many theories that view coexistence as a consequence of a spatio-temporal lottery for dominance over regeneration micro-sites.
PMCID: PMC2685311  PMID: 19351683
Growth-defence trade-off; lottery models; plant–animal interactions; plant size variability; seedling acceptability; seedling defence; spatio-temporal niches; Trifolium pratense; Trifolium repens
4.  Leaf silica concentration in Serengeti grasses increases with watering but not clipping: insights from a common garden study and literature review 
Grasses (Poaceae) lack the complex biochemical pathways and structural defenses employed by other plant families; instead they deposit microscopic silica (SiO2) granules in their leaf blades (i.e., phytoliths) as a putative defense strategy. Silica accumulation in grasses has generally been considered an inducible defense; other research suggests silica accumulation occurs by passive diffusion and should therefore be closely coupled with whole plant transpiration. We tested the hypothesis that grasses increase leaf silica concentration in response to artificial defoliation in a common garden study in the Serengeti ecosystem of East Africa. Additionally, a watering treatment tested the alternative hypothesis that leaf silica was largely driven by plant water status. Leaf silica content of two dominant C4 Serengeti grass species, Themeda triandra and Digitaria macroblephara, was quantified after a 10-month clipping × water experiment in which defoliation occurred approximately every 2 months and supplementary water was added every 2 weeks. Themeda had greater silica content than Digitaria, and Themeda also varied in foliar silica content according to collection site. Clipping had no significant effect on leaf silica in either species and watering significantly increased silica content of the dominant tall grass species, Themeda, but not the lawn species, Digitaria. Our data, and those collected as part of a supplementary literature review, suggest that silicon induction responses are contingent upon a combination of plant identity (i.e., species, genotype, life history limitations) and environmental factors (i.e., precipitation, soil nutrients, grazing intensity). Specifically, we propose that an interaction between plant functional type and water balance plays an especially important role in determining silica uptake and accumulation.
PMCID: PMC4204439  PMID: 25374577
grass; grazing; silica; defoliation; induced defense; herbivory; phytoliths
5.  Epichloë Endophytes Alter Inducible Indirect Defences in Host Grasses 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(6):e101331.
Epichloë endophytes are common symbionts living asymptomatically in pooid grasses and may provide chemical defences against herbivorous insects. While the mechanisms underlying these fungal defences have been well studied, it remains unknown whether endophyte presence affects the host's own defences. We addressed this issue by examining variation in the impact of Epichloë on constitutive and herbivore-induced emissions of volatile organic compounds (VOC), a well-known indirect plant defence, between two grass species, Schedonorus phoenix (ex. Festuca arundinacea; tall fescue) and Festuca pratensis (meadow fescue). We found that feeding by a generalist aphid species, Rhopalosiphum padi, induced VOC emissions by uninfected plants of both grass species but to varying extents, while mechanical wounding failed to do so in both species after one day of damage. Interestingly, regardless of damage treatment, Epichloë uncinata-infected F. pratensis emitted significantly lower quantities of VOCs than their uninfected counterparts. In contrast, Epichloë coenophiala-infected S. phoenix did not differ from their uninfected counterparts in constitutive VOC emissions but tended to increase VOC emissions under intense aphid feeding. A multivariate analysis showed that endophyte status imposed stronger differences in VOC profiles of F. pratensis than damage treatment, while the reverse was true for S. phoenix. Additionally, both endophytes inhibited R. padi population growth as measured by aphid dry biomass, with the inhibition appearing greater in E. uncinata-infected F. pratensis. Our results suggest, not only that Epichloë endophytes may play important roles in mediating host VOC responses to herbivory, but also that the magnitude and direction of such responses may vary with the identity of the Epichloë–grass symbiosis. Whether Epichloë-mediated host VOC responses will eventually translate into effects on higher trophic levels merits future investigation.
PMCID: PMC4076332  PMID: 24978701
6.  Above- and belowground herbivory jointly impact defense and seed dispersal traits in Taraxacum officinale 
Ecology and Evolution  2014;4(16):3309-3319.
Plants are able to cope with herbivores by inducing defensive traits or growth responses that allow them to reduce or avoid the impact of herbivores. Since above- and belowground herbivores differ substantially in life-history traits, for example feeding types, and their spatial distribution, it is likely that they induce different responses in plants. Moreover, strong interactive effects on defense and plant growth are expected when above- and belowground herbivores are jointly present. The strengths and directions of these responses have been scarcely addressed in the literature. Using Taraxacum officinale, the root-feeding nematode Meloidogyne hapla and the locust Schistocerca gregaria as a model species, we examined to what degree above- and belowground herbivory affect (1) plant growth responses, (2) the induction of plant defensive traits, that is, leaf trichomes, and (3) changes in dispersal-related seed traits and seed germination. We compared the performance of plants originating from different populations to address whether plant responses are conserved across putative different genotypes. Overall, aboveground herbivory resulted in increased plant biomass. Root herbivory had no effect on plant growth. Plants exposed to the two herbivores showed fewer leaf trichomes than plants challenged only by one herbivore and consequently experienced greater aboveground herbivory. In addition, herbivory had effects that reached beyond the individual plant by modifying seed morphology, producing seeds with longer pappus, and germination success.
PMCID: PMC4222217  PMID: 25473483
Maternal effects; plant defense; resistance; tolerance; trade-off; trichomes
7.  Herbivory of an invasive slug is affected by earthworms and the composition of plant communities 
BMC Ecology  2013;13:20.
Biodiversity loss and species invasions are among the most important human-induced global changes. Moreover, these two processes are interlinked as ecosystem invasibility is considered to increase with decreasing biodiversity. In temperate grasslands, earthworms serve as important ecosystem engineers making up the majority of soil faunal biomass. Herbivore behaviour has been shown to be affected by earthworms, however it is unclear whether these effects differ with the composition of plant communities. To test this we conducted a mesocosm experiment where we added earthworms (Annelida: Lumbricidae) to planted grassland communities with different plant species composition (3 vs. 12 plant spp.). Plant communities had equal plant densities and ratios of the functional groups grasses, non-leguminous forbs and legumes. Later, Arion vulgaris slugs (formerly known as A. lusitanicus; Gastropoda: Arionidae) were added and allowed to freely choose among the available plant species. This slug species is listed among the 100 worst alien species in Europe. We hypothesized that (i) the food choice of slugs would be altered by earthworms’ specific effects on the growth and nutrient content of plant species, (ii) slug herbivory will be less affected by earthworms in plant communities containing more plant species than in those with fewer plant species because of a more readily utilization of plant resources making the impacts of earthworms less pronounced.
Slug herbivory was significantly affected by both earthworms and plant species composition. Slugs damaged 60% less leaves when earthworms were present, regardless of the species composition of the plant communities. Percent leaf area consumed by slugs was 40% lower in communities containing 12 plant species; in communities containing only three species earthworms increased slug leaf area consumption. Grasses were generally avoided by slugs. Leaf length and number of tillers was increased in mesocosms containing more plant species but little influenced by earthworms. Overall shoot biomass was decreased, root biomass increased in plant communities with more plant species. Earthworms decreased total shoot biomass in mesocosms with more plant species but did not affect biomass production of individual functional groups. Plant nitrogen concentrations across three focus species were 18% higher when earthworms were present; composition of plant communities did not affect plant quality.
Given the important role that both herbivores and earthworms play in structuring plant communities the implications of belowground-aboveground linkages should more broadly be considered when investigating global change effects on ecosystems.
PMCID: PMC3656784  PMID: 23668239
Belowground-aboveground interactions; Ecosystem functioning; Biodiversity loss; Plant-animal interactions; Soil invertebrates; Invasive herbivores; Plant community composition; Global change ecology
8.  Comparison of Early Development of Three Grasses: Lolium perenne, Agrostis stolonifera and Poa pratensis 
Annals of Botany  2005;96(2):269-278.
• Background and Aims To improve the management of grass communities, early plant development was compared in three species with contrasting growth forms, a caespitose (Lolium perenne), a rhizomatous (Poa pratensis) and a caespitose–stoloniferous species (Agrostis stolonifera).
• Methods Isolated seedlings were grown in a glasshouse without trophic constraints for 37 d (761 °Cd). The appearance of leaves and their location on tillers were recorded. Leaf appearance rate (LAR) on the tillers and site-filling were calculated. Tillering was modelled based on the assumption that tiller number increases with the number of leaves produced on the seedling main stem. Above- and below-ground parts were harvested to compare biomass.
• Key Results Lolium perenne and A. stolonifera expressed similar bunch-type developments. However, root biomass was approx. 30 % lower in A. stolonifera than in L. perenne. Poa pratensis was rhizomatous. Nevertheless, the ratio of above-ground : below-ground biomass of P. pratensis was similar to that of L. perenne. LAR was approximately equal to 0·30 leaf d−1 in L. perenne, and on the main stem and first primary tillers of A. stolonifera. LAR on the other tillers of A. stolonifera was 30 % higher than on L. perenne. For P. pratensis, LAR was 30 % lower than on L. perenne, but the interval between the appearance of two successive shoots from rhizomes was 30 % higher than the interval between two successive leaf stages on the main stem. Above-ground parts of P. pratensis first grew slower than in the other species to the benefit of the rhizomes, whose development enhanced tiller production.
• Conclusions Lolium perenne had the fastest tiller production at the earliest stages of seedling development. Agrostis stolonifera and P. pratensis compensated almost completely for the delay due to higher LAR on tillers or ramets compared with L. perenne. This study provides a basis for modelling plant development.
PMCID: PMC4246875  PMID: 15932884
Lolium perenne; perennial ryegrass; Agrostis stolonifera; creeping bentgrass; Poa pratensis; Kentucky bluegrass; space colonization; Gramineae; morphogenesis; tillering model; growth strategy; site-filling
9.  The Root Herbivore History of the Soil Affects the Productivity of a Grassland Plant Community and Determines Plant Response to New Root Herbivore Attack 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(2):e56524.
Insect root herbivores can alter plant community structure by affecting the competitive ability of single plants. However, their effects can be modified by the soil environment. Root herbivory itself may induce changes in the soil biota community, and it has recently been shown that these changes can affect plant growth in a subsequent season or plant generation. However, so far it is not known whether these root herbivore history effects (i) are detectable at the plant community level and/or (ii) also determine plant species and plant community responses to new root herbivore attack. The present greenhouse study determined root herbivore history effects of click beetle larvae (Elateridae, Coleoptera, genus Agriotes) in a model grassland plant community consisting of six common species (Achillea millefolium, Plantago lanceolata, Taraxacum officinale, Holcus lanatus, Poa pratensis, Trifolium repens). Root herbivore history effects were generated in a first phase of the experiment by growing the plant community in soil with or without Agriotes larvae, and investigated in a second phase by growing it again in the soils that were either Agriotes trained or not. The root herbivore history of the soil affected plant community productivity (but not composition), with communities growing in root herbivore trained soil producing more biomass than those growing in untrained soil. Additionally, it influenced the response of certain plant species to new root herbivore attack. Effects may partly be explained by herbivore-induced shifts in the community of arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi. The root herbivore history of the soil proved to be a stronger driver of plant growth on the community level than an actual root herbivore attack which did not affect plant community parameters. History effects have to be taken into account when predicting the impact of root herbivores on grasslands.
PMCID: PMC3575479  PMID: 23441201
10.  Large herbivores may alter vegetation structure of semi-arid savannas through soil nutrient mediation 
Oecologia  2011;165(4):1095-1107.
In savannas, the tree–grass balance is governed by water, nutrients, fire and herbivory, and their interactions. We studied the hypothesis that herbivores indirectly affect vegetation structure by changing the availability of soil nutrients, which, in turn, alters the competition between trees and grasses. Nine abandoned livestock holding-pen areas (kraals), enriched by dung and urine, were contrasted with nearby control sites in a semi-arid savanna. About 40 years after abandonment, kraal sites still showed high soil concentrations of inorganic N, extractable P, K, Ca and Mg compared to controls. Kraals also had a high plant production potential and offered high quality forage. The intense grazing and high herbivore dung and urine deposition rates in kraals fit the accelerated nutrient cycling model described for fertile systems elsewhere. Data of a concurrent experiment also showed that bush-cleared patches resulted in an increase in impala dung deposition, probably because impala preferred open sites to avoid predation. Kraal sites had very low tree densities compared to control sites, thus the high impala dung deposition rates here may be in part driven by the open structure of kraal sites, which may explain the persistence of nutrients in kraals. Experiments indicated that tree seedlings were increasingly constrained when competing with grasses under fertile conditions, which might explain the low tree recruitment observed in kraals. In conclusion, large herbivores may indirectly keep existing nutrient hotspots such as abandoned kraals structurally open by maintaining a high local soil fertility, which, in turn, constrains woody recruitment in a negative feedback loop. The maintenance of nutrient hotspots such as abandoned kraals by herbivores contributes to the structural heterogeneity of nutrient-poor savanna vegetation.
PMCID: PMC3057003  PMID: 21225433
Bush encroachment; Tree–grass competition; Nutrient hotspot; Seedling; Predation
11.  Environmental influences on growth and defence responses of the invasive shrub, Lonicera maackii, to simulated and real herbivory in the juvenile stage 
Annals of Botany  2013;112(4):741-749.
Background and Aims
Tolerance and defence against herbivory are among the many mechanisms attributed to the success of invasive plants in their novel ranges. Because tolerance and defence against herbivory differ with the ontogeny of a plant, the effects of herbivore damage on plant fitness vary with ontogenetic stage and are compounded throughout a plant's lifetime. Environmental stresses such as light and nutrient limitations can further influence the response of the plant. Much is known about the response of plants in the seedling and reproductive adult stages, but less attention has been given to the pre-reproductive juvenile stage.
Juvenile plants of the North American invasive Lonicera maackii were exposed to simulated herbivory under high and low light and nitrogen availability and growth, allocation patterns and foliar defensive chemistry were measured. In a second experiment, complete nutrient availability and damage type (generalist caterpillar or simulated) were manipulated.
Key Results
Juvenile plants receiving 50 % defoliation had lower total biomass and a higher root^:^shoot ratio than controls for all treatment combinations except low nitrogen/low light. Low light and defoliation increased root^:^shoot ratio. Light, fertilization and defoliation had little impact on foliar defensive chemistry. In the second experiment, there was a reduction in total biomass when caterpillar damage was applied. The root^:^shoot ratio increased under low soil fertility and was not affected by defoliation. Stem-diameter growth rates and specific leaf area did not vary by damage type or fertilization. Foliar protein increased through time, and more strongly in defoliated plants than in controls, while peroxidase activity and total flavonoids decreased with time. Overall, resource limitations were more influential than damage in the growth of juvenile L. maackii plants.
The findings illustrate that even when resources are limited, the tolerance and defence against herbivory of a woody invasive plant in the juvenile stage may contribute to the establishment and persistence of some species in a variety of habitats.
PMCID: PMC3736768  PMID: 23589632
Herbivory; Lonicera maackii; tolerance; root to shoot ratio; relative growth rate; ontogeny
12.  Silicon’s organic pool and biological cycle in moso bamboo community of Wuyishan Biosphere Reserve*  
Biomineralization of Si by plants into phytolith formation and precipitation of Si into clays during weathering are two important processes of silicon’s biogeochemical cycle. As a silicon-accumulating plant, the widely distributed and woody Phyllostachys heterocycla var. pubescens (moso bamboo) contributes to storing silicon by biomineralization and, thus, prevents eutrophication of nearby waterbodies through silicon’s erosion of soil particles.
A study on the organic pool and biological cycle of silicon (Si) of the moso bamboo community was conducted in Wuyishan Biosphere Reserve, China. The results showed that: (1) the standing crop of the moso bamboo community was 13355.4 g/m2, of which 53.61%, 45.82% and 0.56% are represented by the aboveground and belowground parts of moso bamboos, and the understory plants, respectively; (2) the annual net primary production of the community was 2887.1 g/(m2·a), among which the aboveground part, belowground part, litterfalls, and other fractions, accounted for 55.86%, 35.30%, 4.50% and 4.34%, respectively; (3) silicon concentration in stem, branch, leaf, base of stem, root, whip of bamboos, and other plants was 0.15%, 0.79%, 3.10%, 4.40%, 7.32%, 1.52% and 1.01%, respectively; (4) the total Si accumulated in the standing crop of moso bamboo community was 448.91 g/m2, with 99.83% of Si of the total community stored in moso bamboo populations; (5) within moso bamboo community, the annual uptake, retention, and return of Si were 95.75, 68.43, 27.32 g/(m2·a), respectively; (6) the turnover time of Si, which is the time an average atom of Si remains in the soil before it is recycled into the trees or shrubs, was 16.4 years; (7) the enrichment ratio of Si in the moso bamboo community, which is the ratio of the mean concentration of nutrients in the net primary production to the mean concentration of nutrients in the biomass of a community, was 0.64; and lastly, (8) moso bamboo plants stored about 1.26×1010 kg of silicon in the organic pool made up by the moso bamboo forests in the subtropical area of China.
PMCID: PMC1635818  PMID: 17048297
Phyllostachys heterocycla var. pubescens; Moso bamboo community; Silicon-accumulating; Silicon biological cycle; Wuyishan Biosphere Reserve
13.  Above- and below-ground vertebrate herbivory may each favour a different subordinate species in an aquatic plant community 
Oecologia  2009;162(1):199-208.
At least two distinct trade-offs are thought to facilitate higher diversity in productive plant communities under herbivory. Higher investment in defence and enhanced colonization potential may both correlate with decreased competitive ability in plants. Herbivory may thus promote coexistence of plant species exhibiting divergent life history strategies. How different seasonally tied herbivore assemblages simultaneously affect plant community composition and diversity is, however, largely unknown. Two contrasting types of herbivory can be distinguished in the aquatic vegetation of the shallow lake Lauwersmeer. In summer, predominantly above-ground tissues are eaten, whereas in winter, waterfowl forage on below-ground plant propagules. In a 4-year exclosure study we experimentally separated above-ground herbivory by waterfowl and large fish in summer from below-ground herbivory by Bewick’s swans in winter. We measured the individual and combined effects of both herbivory periods on the composition of the three-species aquatic plant community. Herbivory effect sizes varied considerably from year to year. In 2 years herbivore exclusion in summer reinforced dominance of Potamogeton pectinatus with a concomitant decrease in Potamogeton pusillus, whereas no strong, unequivocal effect was observed in the other 2 years. Winter exclusion, on the other hand, had a negative effect on Zannichellia palustris, but the effect size differed considerably between years. We suggest that the colonization ability of Z. palustris may have enabled this species to be more abundant after reduction of P. pectinatus tuber densities by swans. Evenness decreased due to herbivore exclusion in summer. We conclude that seasonally tied above- and below-ground herbivory may each stimulate different components of a macrophyte community as they each favoured a different subordinate plant species.
PMCID: PMC2776151  PMID: 19756762
Aquatic macrophytes; Waterfowl; Tubers; Competition colonization trade-off; Bare patch formation
14.  Rapid Plant Identification Using Species- and Group-Specific Primers Targeting Chloroplast DNA 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(1):e29473.
Plant identification is challenging when no morphologically assignable parts are available. There is a lack of broadly applicable methods for identifying plants in this situation, for example when roots grow in mixture and for decayed or semi-digested plant material. These difficulties have also impeded the progress made in ecological disciplines such as soil- and trophic ecology. Here, a PCR-based approach is presented which allows identifying a variety of plant taxa commonly occurring in Central European agricultural land. Based on the trnT-F cpDNA region, PCR assays were developed to identify two plant families (Poaceae and Apiaceae), the genera Trifolium and Plantago, and nine plant species: Achillea millefolium, Fagopyrum esculentum, Lolium perenne, Lupinus angustifolius, Phaseolus coccineus, Sinapis alba, Taraxacum officinale, Triticum aestivum, and Zea mays. These assays allowed identification of plants based on size-specific amplicons ranging from 116 bp to 381 bp. Their specificity and sensitivity was consistently high, enabling the detection of small amounts of plant DNA, for example, in decaying plant material and in the intestine or faeces of herbivores. To increase the efficacy of identifying plant species from large number of samples, specific primers were combined in multiplex PCRs, allowing screening for multiple species within a single reaction. The molecular assays outlined here will be applicable manifold, such as for root- and leaf litter identification, botanical trace evidence, and the analysis of herbivory.
PMCID: PMC3257244  PMID: 22253728
15.  New chloroplast microsatellite markers suitable for assessing genetic diversity of Lolium perenne and other related grass species 
Annals of Botany  2012;110(6):1327-1339.
Background and Aims
Lolium perenne (perennial ryegrass) is the most important forage grass species of temperate regions. We have previously released the chloroplast genome sequence of L. perenne ‘Cashel’. Here nine chloroplast microsatellite markers are published, which were designed based on knowledge about genetically variable regions within the L. perenne chloroplast genome. These markers were successfully used for characterizing the genetic diversity in Lolium and different grass species.
Chloroplast genomes of 14 Poaceae taxa were screened for mononucleotide microsatellite repeat regions and primers designed for their amplification from nine loci. The potential of these markers to assess genetic diversity was evaluated on a set of 16 Irish and 15 European L. perenne ecotypes, nine L. perenne cultivars, other Lolium taxa and other grass species.
Key Results
All analysed Poaceae chloroplast genomes contained more than 200 mononucleotide repeats (chloroplast simple sequence repeats, cpSSRs) of at least 7 bp in length, concentrated mainly in the large single copy region of the genome. Nucleotide composition varied considerably among subfamilies (with Pooideae biased towards poly A repeats). The nine new markers distinguish L. perenne from all non-Lolium taxa. TeaCpSSR28 was able to distinguish between all Lolium species and Lolium multiflorum due to an elongation of an A8 mononucleotide repeat in L. multiflorum. TeaCpSSR31 detected a considerable degree of microsatellite length variation and single nucleotide polymorphism. TeaCpSSR27 revealed variation within some L. perenne accessions due to a 44-bp indel and was hence readily detected by simple agarose gel electrophoresis. Smaller insertion/deletion events or single nucleotide polymorphisms detected by these new markers could be visualized by polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis or DNA sequencing, respectively.
The new markers are a valuable tool for plant breeding companies, seed testing agencies and the wider scientific community due to their ability to monitor genetic diversity within breeding pools, to trace maternal inheritance and to distinguish closely related species.
PMCID: PMC3478042  PMID: 22419761
Lolium perenne; perennial ryegrass; Poaceae; chloroplast microsatellite markers; chloroplast genome; genetic diversity
16.  Interspecific Variation in Compensatory Regrowth to Herbivory Associated with Soil Nutrients in Three Ficus (Moraceae) Saplings 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(9):e45092.
Plant compensatory regrowth is an induced process that enhances plant tolerance to herbivory. Plant behavior against herbivores differs between species and depends on resource availability, thus making general predictions related to plant compensatory regrowth difficult. To understand how soil nutrients determine the degree of compensatory regrowth for different plant species, we selected saplings of three Ficus species and treated with herbivore insects and artificial injury in both glasshouse conditions and in the field at two soil nutrient levels. Compensatory regrowth was calculated by biomass, relative growth rate and photosynthetic characteristics. A similar pattern was found in both the glasshouse and in the field for species F. hispida, where overcompensatory regrowth was triggered only under fertile conditions, and full compensatory regrowth occurred under infertile conditions. For F. auriculata, overcompensatory regrowth was stimulated only under infertile conditions and full compensatory regrowth occurred under fertile conditions. Ficus racemosa displayed full compensatory regrowth in both soil nutrient levels, but without overcompensatory regrowth following any of the treatments. The three Ficus species differed in biomass allocation following herbivore damage and artificial injury. The root/shoot ratio of F. hispida decreased largely following herbivore damage and artificial injury, while the root/shoot ratio for F. auriculata increased against damage treatments. The increase of shoot and root size for F. hispida and F. auriculata, respectively, appeared to be caused by a significant increase in photosynthesis. The results indicated that shifts in biomass allocation and increased photosynthesis are two of the mechanisms underlying compensatory regrowth. Contrasting patterns among the three Ficus species suggest that further theoretical and empirical work is necessary to better understand the complexity of the plant responses to herbivore damage.
PMCID: PMC3440311  PMID: 22984616
17.  Effect of Sheep Urine Deposition on the Bacterial Community Structure in an Acidic Upland Grassland Soil†  
Applied and Environmental Microbiology  2006;72(11):7231-7237.
The effect of the addition of synthetic sheep urine (SSU) and plant species on the bacterial community composition of upland acidic grasslands was studied using a microcosm approach. Low, medium, and high concentrations of SSU were applied to pots containing plant species typical of both unimproved (Agrostis capillaris) and agriculturally improved (Lolium perenne) grasslands, and harvests were carried out 10 days and 50 days after the addition of SSU. SSU application significantly increased both soil pH (P < 0.005), with pH values ranging from pH 5.4 (zero SSU) to pH 6.4 (high SSU), and microbial activity (P < 0.005), with treatment with medium and high levels of SSU displaying significantly higher microbial activity (triphenylformazan dehydrogenase activity) than treatment of soil with zero or low concentrations of SSU. Microbial biomass, however, was not significantly altered by any of the SSU applications. Plant species alone had no effect on microbial biomass or activity. Bacterial community structure was profiled using bacterial automated ribosomal intergenic spacer analysis. Multidimensional scaling plots indicated that applications of high concentrations of SSU significantly altered the bacterial community composition in the presence of plant species but at different times: 10 days after application of high concentrations of SSU, the bacterial community composition of L. perenne-planted soils differed significantly from those of any other soils, whereas in the case of A. capillaris-planted soils, the bacterial community composition was different 50 days after treatment with high concentrations of SSU. Canonical correspondence analysis also highlighted the importance of interactions between SSU addition, plant species, and time in the bacterial community structure. This study has shown that the response of plants and bacterial communities to sheep urine deposition in grasslands is dependent on both the grass species present and the concentration of SSU applied, which may have important ecological consequences for agricultural grasslands.
PMCID: PMC1636162  PMID: 17088382
18.  Sensitivity of the Invasive Geophyte Oxalis pes-caprae to Nutrient Availability and Competition 
Annals of Botany  2007;99(4):637-645.
Background and Aims
Invasion by alien plants may be partially related to disturbance-related increases in nutrient availability and decreases of competition with native species, and to superior competitive ability of the invader. Oxalis pes-caprae is an invasive winter geophyte in the Mediterranean Islands that reproduces vegetatively via bulbs. An investigation was made into the relative responses of O. pes-caprae and the native annual grass Lolium rigidum to nutrient availability and to competition with each other in order to understand patterns of invasion in the field. Because Oxalis accumulates oxalic acid in its leaves, which could ameliorate soil phosphorous availability, field observations were made to determine whether the presence of Oxalis alters soil P availability.
A full-factorial glasshouse experiment was conducted with nutrient availability (high and low) and competition (Lolium alone, Oxalis alone, and Lolium and Oxalis together). Plant performance was assessed by determining (1) above- and below-ground biomass at the time of Oxalis maximum biomass and (2) reproductive output of Oxalis and Lolium at the end of their respective growth cycles. Measurements were also taken for leaf N and P content. Soil samples were taken in the field from paired Oxalis-invaded and non-invaded plots located in Menorca (Balearic Islands) and available P was determined.
Key Results
High nutrient availability increased Oxalis and Lolium vegetative biomass and reproductive output to a similar degree. Competition with Lolium had a much stronger negative effect on Oxalis bulb production than reduced nutrients. Lolium was a superior competitor than Oxalis; the latter did not affect Lolium maximum biomass and spike production. Significantly greater soil-P availability in Oxalis-invaded field soils relative to paired non-invaded soils suggest that Oxalis influences soil P cycling.
Oxalis is a poor competitor. This is consistent with the preferential distribution of Oxalis in disturbed areas such as ruderal habitats, and might explain its low influence on the cover of native species in invaded sites. The results also suggest that certain disturbances (e.g. autumn ploughing) may greatly enhance Oxalis invasion.
PMCID: PMC2802929  PMID: 17298990
Oxalis pes-caprae; invasive species; competition; nutrients; Lolium rigidum; asexual reproduction; Mediterranean Islands
19.  Plants Can Benefit from Herbivory: Stimulatory Effects of Sheep Saliva on Growth of Leymus chinensis 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(1):e29259.
Plants and herbivores can evolve beneficial interactions. Growth factors found in animal saliva are probably key factors underlying plant compensatory responses to herbivory. However, there is still a lack of knowledge about how animal saliva interacts with herbivory intensities and how saliva can mobilize photosynthate reserves in damaged plants.
Methodology/Principal Findings
The study examined compensatory responses to herbivory and sheep saliva addition for the grass species Leymus chinensis in three experiments over three years. The first two experiments were conducted in a factorial design with clipping (four levels in 2006 and five in 2007) and two saliva treatment levels. The third experiment examined the mobilization and allocation of stored carbohydrates following clipping and saliva addition treatments. Animal saliva significantly increased tiller number, number of buds, and biomass, however, there was no effect on height. Furthermore, saliva effects were dependent on herbivory intensities, associated with meristem distribution within perennial grass. Animal saliva was found to accelerate hydrolyzation of fructans and accumulation of glucose and fructose.
The results demonstrated a link between saliva and the mobilization of carbohydrates following herbivory, which is an important advance in our understanding of the evolution of plant responses to herbivory. Herbivory intensity dependence of the effects of saliva stresses the significance of optimal grazing management.
PMCID: PMC3251555  PMID: 22235277
20.  Increased Plant Carbon Translocation Linked to Overyielding in Grassland Species Mixtures 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(9):e45926.
Plant species richness and productivity often show a positive relationship, but the underlying mechanisms are not fully understood, especially at the plant species level. We examined how growing plants in species mixture influences intraspecific rates of short-term carbon (C-) translocation, and determined whether such short-term responses are reflected in biomass yields. We grew monocultures and mixtures of six common C3 grassland plant species in outdoor mesocosms, applied a 13C-CO2 pulse in situ to trace assimilated C through plants, into the soil, and back to the atmosphere, and quantified species-specific biomass. Pulse derived 13C enrichment was highest in the legumes Lotus corniculatus and Trifolium repens, and relocation (i.e. transport from the leaves to other plant parts) of the recently assimilated 13C was most rapid in T. repens grown in 6-species mixtures. The grass Anthoxanthum odoratum also showed high levels of 13C enrichment in 6-species mixtures, while 13C enrichment was low in Lolium perenne, Plantago lanceolata and Achillea millefolium. Rates of C loss through respiration were highest in monocultures of T. repens and relatively low in species mixtures, while the proportion of 13C in the respired CO2 was similar in monocultures and mixtures. The grass A. odoratum and legume T. repens were most promoted in 6-species mixtures, and together with L. corniculatus, caused the net biomass increase in 6-species mixtures. These plant species also had highest rates of 13C-label translocation, and for A. odoratum and T. repens this effect was greatest in plant individuals grown in species mixtures. Our study reveals that short-term plant C translocation can be accelerated in plant individuals of legume and C3 grass species when grown in mixtures, and that this is strongly positively related to overyielding. These results demonstrate a mechanistic coupling between changes in intraspecific plant carbon physiology and increased community level productivity in grassland systems.
PMCID: PMC3457971  PMID: 23049893
21.  Silicon, endophytes and secondary metabolites as grass defenses against mammalian herbivores 
Grasses have been considered to primarily employ tolerance in lieu of defense in mitigating damage caused by herbivory. Yet a number of mechanisms have been identified in grasses, which may deter feeding by grazers. These include enhanced silicon uptake, hosting of toxin-producing endophytic fungi and induction of secondary metabolites. While these mechanisms have been individually studied, their synergistic responses to grazing, as well as their effects on grazers, are poorly known. A field experiment was carried out in 5 × 5 m outdoor enclosures to quantify phytochemical changes of either endophyte-infected (E+) or endophyte-free (E-) meadow fescue (Schedonorus pratensis) in response to medium intensity (corresponding with densities of ca. 1200 voles/ha for 5 weeks during 3 months) or heavy intensity (ca. 1200 voles/ha for 8 weeks during 3 months) grazing by a mammalian herbivore, the field vole (Microtus agrestis). A laboratory experiment was then conducted to evaluate the effects of endophyte infection status and grazing history of the grass diet on vole performance. As predicted, grazing increased foliar silicon content, by up to 13%. Grazing also increased foliar levels of phosphorous and several phenolic compounds, most notably those of the flavonols isorhamnetin-diglycoside and rhamnetin derivative. Silicon concentrations were consistently circa 16% higher in E+ grasses than in E-grasses, at all levels of grazing. Similarly, concentrations of chlorogenic acid derivative were found to be consistently higher in E+ than in E- grasses. Female voles maintained on heavily grazed grasses suffered higher mortality rates in the laboratory than female voles fed ungrazed grass, regardless of endophyte infection status. Our results conclusively demonstrate that, in addition to tolerance, grasses employ multi-tiered, effective defenses against mammalian grazers.
PMCID: PMC4166226  PMID: 25278951
defense; endophytes; grasses; grazing; phenolics; secondary metabolites; silicon; voles
22.  Soil Microorganisms Alleviate the Allelochemical Effects of a Thyme Monoterpene on the Performance of an Associated Grass Species 
PLoS ONE  2011;6(11):e26321.
Plant allelochemicals released into the soil can significantly impact the performance of associated plant species thereby affecting their competitive ability. Soil microbes can potentially affect the interaction between plant and plant chemicals by degrading the allelochemicals. However, most often plant-plant chemical interactions are studied using filter paper bioassays examining the pair-wise interaction between a plant and a plant chemical, not taking into account the potential role of soil microorganisms.
Methodology/Principal findings
To explore if the allelopathic effects on a grass by the common thyme monoterpene “carvacrol” are affected by soil microorganisms. Seedlings of the grass Agrostis capillaris originating from 3 different thyme sites were raised in the greenhouse. Seedlings were grown under four different soil treatments in a 2*2 fully factorial experiment. The monoterpene carvacrol was either added to standard greenhouse soil or left out, and soil was either sterilized (no soil microorganisms) or not (soil microorganisms present in soil). The presence of carvacrol in the soil strongly increased mortality of Agrostis plants, and this increase was highest on sterile soil. Plant biomass was reduced on soil amended with carvacrol, but only when the soil was also sterilized. Plants originating from sites where thyme produces essential oils containing mostly carvacrol had higher survival on soil treated with that monoterpene than plants originating from a site where thyme produced different types of terpenes, suggesting an adaptive response to the locally occurring terpene.
The study shows that presence of soil microorganisms can alleviate the negative effect of a common thyme monoterpene on the performance of an associated plant species, emphasizing the role of soil microbes in modulating plant-plant chemical interactions.
PMCID: PMC3219634  PMID: 22125596
23.  Functional identity versus species richness: herbivory resistance in plant communities 
Oecologia  2010;163(3):707-717.
The resistance of a plant community against herbivore attack may depend on plant species richness, with monocultures often much more severely affected than mixtures of plant species. Here, we used a plant–herbivore system to study the effects of selective herbivory on consumption resistance and recovery after herbivory in 81 experimental grassland plots. Communities were established from seed in 2002 and contained 1, 2, 4, 8, 16 or 60 plant species of 1, 2, 3 or 4 functional groups. In 2004, pairs of enclosure cages (1 m tall, 0.5 m diameter) were set up on all 81 plots. One randomly selected cage of each pair was stocked with 10 male and 10 female nymphs of the meadow grasshopper, Chorthippus parallelus. The grasshoppers fed for 2 months, and the vegetation was monitored over 1 year. Consumption resistance and recovery of vegetation were calculated as proportional changes in vegetation biomass. Overall, grasshopper herbivory averaged 6.8%. Herbivory resistance and recovery were influenced by plant functional group identity, but independent of plant species richness and number of functional groups. However, herbivory induced shifts in vegetation composition that depended on plant species richness. Grasshopper herbivory led to increases in herb cover at the expense of grasses. Herb cover increased more strongly in species-rich mixtures. We conclude that selective herbivory changes the functional composition of plant communities and that compositional changes due to selective herbivory depend on plant species richness.
PMCID: PMC2886090  PMID: 20429014
Biodiversity; The Jena Experiment; Herbivory; Grasshopper; Plant functional groups
24.  Sexual dimorphism in a dioecious population of the wind-pollinated herb Mercurialis annua: the interactive effects of resource availability and competition 
Annals of Botany  2011;107(6):1039-1045.
Background and Aims
Male-biased sex allocation commonly occurs in wind-pollinated hermaphroditic plants, and is often positively associated with size, notably in terms of height. Currently, it is not well established whether a corresponding pattern holds for dioecious plants: do males of wind-pollinated species exhibit greater reproductive allocation than females? Here, sexual dimorphism is investigated in terms of life history trade-offs in a dioecious population of the wind-pollinated ruderal herb Mercurialis annua.
The allocation strategies of males and females grown under different soil nutrient availability and competitive (i.e. no, male or female competitor) regimes were compared.
Key Results
Male reproductive allocation increased disproportionately with biomass, and was greater than that of females when grown in rich soils. Sexual morphs differentially adjusted their reproductive allocation in response to local environmental conditions. In particular, males reduced their reproductive allocation in poor soils, whereas females increased theirs, especially when competing with another female rather than growing alone. Finally, males displayed smaller above-ground vegetative sizes than females, but neither nutrient availability nor competition had a strong independent effect on relative size disparities between the sexes.
Selection appears to favour plasticity in reproductive allocation in dioecious M. annua, thereby maintaining a relatively constant size hierarchy between sexual morphs. In common with other dioecious species, there seems to be little divergence in the niches occupied by males and females of M. annua.
PMCID: PMC3080628  PMID: 21385775
Life history trade-offs; competition; wind pollination; separate sexes; sex allocation; sexual size dimorphism; reproductive allocation; resource availability; Mercurialis annua
25.  Relative Importance of Biotic and Abiotic Soil Components to Plant Growth and Insect Herbivore Population Dynamics 
PLoS ONE  2010;5(9):e12937.
Plants are affected by several aspects of the soil, which have the potential to exert cascading effects on the performance of herbivorous insects. The effects of biotic and abiotic soil characteristics have however mostly been investigated in isolation, leaving their relative importance largely unexplored. Such is the case for the dune grass Ammophila, whose decline under decreasing sand accretion is argued to be caused by either biotic or abiotic soil properties.
Methodology/Principal Findings
By manipulating dune soils from three different regions, we decoupled the contributions of region, the abiotic and biotic soil component to the variation in characteristics of Ammophila arenaria seedlings and Schizaphis rufula aphid populations. Root mass fraction and total dry biomass of plants were affected by soil biota, although the latter effect was not consistent across regions. None of the measured plant properties were significantly affected by the abiotic soil component. Aphid population characteristics all differed between regions, irrespective of whether soil biota were present or absent. Hence these effects were due to differences in abiotic soil properties between regions. Although several chemical properties of the soil mixtures were measured, none of these were consistent with results for plant or aphid traits.
Plants were affected more strongly by soil biota than by abiotic soil properties, whereas the opposite was true for aphids. Our results thus demonstrate that the relative importance of the abiotic and biotic component of soils can differ for plants and their herbivores. The fact that not all effects of soil properties could be detected across regions moreover emphasizes the need for spatial replication in order to make sound conclusions about the generality of aboveground-belowground interactions.
PMCID: PMC2944872  PMID: 20886078

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