Date of Award

8-2010

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Science

Major

Ecology and Evolutionary Biology

Major Professor

Nathan J. Sanders

Committee Members

Aimee T. Classen, Jennifer A. Schweitzer

Abstract

Nutrient availability and herbivory can regulate primary production in ecosystems, but little is known about how, or whether, they may interact with one another. Here I investigate how nitrogen availability and insect herbivory interact to alter above- and belowground plant community biomass in an old-field ecosystem. In 2004, 36 experimental plots were established in which soil nitrogen (N) availability (at three levels) was manipulated and insect abundance (at two levels) in a completely randomized plot design. In 2009, after six years of treatment, I measured aboveground biomass and assessed root production at peak growth. Overall, I found a significant effect of soil N availability on both above- and belowground plant biomass while insects affected only aboveground biomass of subdominant plant species and coarse root production; there were no statistical interactions between N availability and insect herbivory for any response variable. Specifically, responses of aboveground and belowground community biomass to nutrients were driven by reductions in soil N, but not additions, indicating that soil N may not be primarily limiting production in this ecosystem. Insect herbivory altered the aboveground biomass of the subdominant plant species and altered allocation patterns to coarse root production belowground. Overall, the results of six years of nutrient amendments and insect removals suggest strong bottom-up influences on total plant community productivity.

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