Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository

Degree

Doctor of Philosophy

Program

Biology

Supervisor

Dr. Hugh Henry

Abstract

Climate warming and increased atmospheric nitrogen deposition may substantially influence biosphere C cycling over the next century by altering ecosystem processes such as productivity and decomposition. Field studies are commonly used to explore plant responses to global change, although the underlying mechanisms can be difficult to isolate owing to the lack of control of factors such as plant-animal interactions. Ultimately, indirect effects via herbivore and detritivore responses may feedback to influence plant responses to the experimental treatments. The goal of this thesis was to explore interactions among biotic and abiotic drivers of carbon dynamics within the context of experimental warming and nitrogen addition in the field.

Evidence from a herbivore exclusion experiment revealed that mollusc effects on net primary productivity were more pronounced in warmed plots than in ambient temperature plots, likely as a result of temperature-related increases in mollusc metabolic activity and plant consumption rate. Furthermore, the effects of rodent exclusion on grass biomass were significantly greater in N-fertilized plots than non-fertilized plots. Feeding experiments suggested that this finding is likely attributed to increased grass palatability in response to N addition.

Results from a litter decomposition experiment indicated that warming impeded the contribution of detritivores to carbon turnover, though this effect was transient. Increased precipitation over the course of the experiment may have promoted recovery of the detritivore community, and could also account for the significant detritivore effects observed following one year of incubation. Reciprocal litter transplants between the treatments plots and untreated areas of the field indicated that the observed responses from the main experiment were unlikely to be accounted for by the individual effects of litter quality or microenvironment alone.

Overall, the influence of global change factors such as warming and increased atmospheric nitrogen deposition on carbon-related processes such as productivity can be substantially modified by indirect effects on herbivore dynamics, with consumer-specific treatment effects suggesting that this relationship is complex and can depend on both diet quality and microclimate. Though detritivores were relatively insensitive to warming and N addition as decomposition progressed, they likely play an important role in the overall magnitude of ecosystem C turnover.


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