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Nitrogen transfer between herbivores and their forage species

Sjögersten, S. and Kuijper, D. and Wal Van der, R. and Loonen, M.J.J.E. and Huiskes, A.H.L. and Woodin, S.J. (2010) Nitrogen transfer between herbivores and their forage species. Polar Biology, 33, 1195-1203. ISSN 0722-4060.

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Herbivores may increase the productivity of forage plants; however, this depends on the return of nutrients from faeces to the forage plants. The aim of this study was to test if nitrogen (N) from faeces is available to forage plants and whether the return of nutrients differs between plant species using 15N natural abundance in faeces and plant tissue. To investigate the effect of grazing on N transfer, we carried out a grazing experiment in wet and mesic tundra on high Arctic Spitsbergen using barnacle geese (Branta leucopsis) as the model herbivore. N inputs (from faeces) increased with grazing pressure at both the wet and mesic sites, with the greatest N input from faeces at the wet site. The δ15N ratio in plant tissue from grazed plots was enriched in mosses and the dwarf shrub species, reflecting the δ15N signature of faeces-derived N, but no such pattern was observed in the dominant grasses. This study demonstrates that the δ15N signature of faeces and forage species is a useful tool to explore how grazing impacts on N acquisition. Our findings suggest that plant species which acquire their N close to the soil surface (e.g. mosses) access more of the N from faeces than species with deeper root systems (e.g. grasses) suggesting a transfer of N from the preferred forage species to the mosses and dwarf shrubs, which are less preferred by the geese. In conclusion, the moss layer appears to disrupt the nitrogen return from herbivores to their forage species.

Item Type:Article
Institutes:Nederlands Instituut voor Ecologie (NIOO)
ID Code:7811
Deposited On:07 Oct 2010 02:00
Last Modified:08 Sep 2011 13:46

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