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Faunal input at host plants: can Camelthorn trees use nutrients imported by resident Sociable weavers?

Citation

Prayag, Kervin; du Toit, Carla; Cramer, Michael; Thomson, Robert (2021), Faunal input at host plants: can Camelthorn trees use nutrients imported by resident Sociable weavers?, Dryad, Dataset, https://doi.org/10.5061/dryad.1ns1rn8rt

Abstract

“Islands of fertility” result from the focussing of water and nutrients around many shrub- or tree species due to plants foraging for resources. Plant-animal feedbacks may amplify the development of such islands through environmental modification due to, for example, faunal deposition of nutrients and seeds. Fauna residing within vegetation clumps are likely to exert stronger feedbacks on their hosts than itinerant species. We studied the interaction between camelthorn trees (Vachellia erioloba) and the colonial nests of sociable weavers (Philetairus socius) in the Kalahari. We hypothesised that the accumulation of biological material below the nests will alter the nutrient status of the soil beneath the nest trees, in relation to unoccupied trees and the surrounding grassland. We also suggested that this association will have both positive and negative effects on the camelthorn trees. We found that soil concentrations of N, P and K were respectively 4, 4.6 and 1.2 times higher below trees with nests compared to control trees, indicating faunal concentration of nutrients. Soil δ15N values were higher below trees with than below control trees without nests. Foliar δ15N values were also higher in nest trees than in control trees, showing the trees accessed faunally-derived N. Furthermore, foliar biomass per diameter of terminal branches was 27% higher in nest trees, suggesting that trees respond to nutrient input from the weavers with increased growth. Large barren areas in the sub-canopy vegetation directly beneath the colonies were attributed to decreased water infiltration rates as a result of accumulation of organic matter due to continuous deposition of faeces, possibly limiting competitive species from establishing in the sub-canopy. On the other hand, canopy volume was reduced in trees with nests due to nests occupying large volumes within the canopy and nests frequently causing branch fall, indicating costs associated with hosting weaver colonies.