Data from: Intraspecific variation in litter palatability to macroarthropods in response to grazing and soil fertility
Coq, Sylvain et al. (2019), Data from: Intraspecific variation in litter palatability to macroarthropods in response to grazing and soil fertility, Dryad, Dataset, https://doi.org/10.5061/dryad.s458b5n
1. Clarifying the functional consequences of intraspecific trait variability in response to interacting trophic levels would provide a significant improvement in our understanding of aboveground-belowground linkages. In particular, the effects of grazing on plant traits may translate into altered litter quality, with potentially important consequences for litter-feeding decomposers. Plant and litter variability in response to grazing is expected to depend on soil fertility levels, with tolerance and defensive strategies more commonly expressed on fertile and poorer soils, respectively. However, how grazing and fertility interactively alter litter quality and palatability to detritivores has not been explored yet. 2. We conducted a cafeteria experiment with three common millipede (Diplopoda) species feeding on leaf litter from two plant species, the grass Bromopsis erecta and the forb Potentilla verna. Each millipede was offered a binary choice between litter types produced by the same plant species, but sampled in plots with distinct herbivory and fertilization status: litter originating from grazed areas or from one-year sheep exclosures, both in native areas and in adjacent paddocks that received chemical N and P fertilization, as well as litter from a 25-year sheep exclusion in the native area. 3. We found that fertilization and herbivore exclusion interactively affected Bromopsis litter quality and palatability, whereas Potentilla was much less affected. Bromopsis litter palatability was not affected by grazing when litter was collected in native plots, except for the long-term exclosure which led to a very low palatability. In contrast, and in line with our expectations, herbivory was associated with much higher palatability in fertilized plots. The changes in palatability were associated with important alterations of litter quality. 4. Overall, our study demonstrates that intraspecific variation in litter can have profound consequences for soil functioning. It emphasizes the role of grazing as a key, but plant species-specific factor controlling litter intraspecific variability, and its complex interaction with soil fertility level. Moreover, our results advocate for a better understanding of the response of the different organisms involved in the decomposition process, in particular litter-feeding macro-detritivores. We encourage future studies aiming at disentangling the various and complex relationships between aboveground processes such as herbivory and soil functioning.