Plant and arthropod community sensitivity to rainfall manipulation but not nitrogen enrichment in a successional grassland ecosystem
Grasslands provide many ecosystem services including carbon storage, biodiversity preservation and livestock forage production. These ecosystem services will change in the future in response to multiple global environmental changes, including climate change and increased nitrogen inputs. We conducted an experimental study over 3 years in a mesotrophic grassland ecosystem in southern England. We aimed to expose plots to rainfall manipulation that simulated IPCC 4th Assessment projections for 2100 (+15 % winter rainfall and −30 % summer rainfall) or ambient climate, achieving +15 % winter rainfall and −39 % summer rainfall in rainfall-manipulated plots. Nitrogen (40 kg ha−1 year−1) was also added to half of the experimental plots in factorial combination. Plant species composition and above ground biomass were not affected by rainfall in the first 2 years and the plant community did not respond to nitrogen enrichment throughout the experiment. In the third year, above-ground plant biomass declined in rainfall-manipulated plots, driven by a decline in the abundances of grass species characteristic of moist soils. Declining plant biomass was also associated with changes to arthropod communities, with lower abundances of plant-feeding Auchenorrhyncha and carnivorous Araneae indicating multi-trophic responses to rainfall manipulation. Plant and arthropod community composition and plant biomass responses to rainfall manipulation were not modified by nitrogen enrichment, which was not expected, but may have resulted from prior nitrogen saturation and/or phosphorus limitation. Overall, our study demonstrates that climate change may in future influence plant productivity and induce multi-trophic responses in grasslands.
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