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Research article - Peer-reviewed, 2012

Drivers of inter-year variability of plant production and decomposers across contrasting island ecosystems

Wardle, David A.; Jonsson, Micael; Kalela-Brundin, Maarit; Lagerström, Anna; Yeates, Gregor; Bardgett, Richard; Nilsson, Marie-Charlotte


Despite the likely importance of inter-year dynamics of plant production and consumer biota for driving community-and ecosystem-level processes, very few studies have explored how and why these dynamics vary across contrasting ecosystems. We utilized a well-characterized system of 30 lake islands in the boreal forest zone of northern Sweden across which soil fertility and productivity vary considerably, with larger islands being more fertile and productive than smaller ones. In this system we assessed the inter-year dynamics of several measures of plant production and the soil microbial community (primary consumers in the decomposer food web) for each of nine years, and soil microfaunal groups (secondary and tertiary consumers) for each of six of those years. We found that, for measures of plant production and each of the three consumer trophic levels, inter-year dynamics were strongly affected by island size. Further, many variables were strongly affected by island size (and thus bottom-up regulation by soil fertility and resources) in some years, but not in other years, most likely due to inter-year variation in climatic conditions. For each of the plant and microbial variables for which we had nine years of data, we also determined the inter-year coefficient of variation (CV), an inverse measure of stability. We found that CVs of some measures of plant productivity were greater on large islands, whereas those of other measures were greater on smaller islands; CVs of microbial variables were unresponsive to island size. We also found that the effects of island size on the temporal dynamics of some variables were related to inter-year variability of macroclimatic variables. As such, our results show that the inter-year dynamics of both plant productivity and decomposer biota across each of three trophic levels, as well as the inter-year stability of plant productivity, differ greatly across contrasting ecosystems, with potentially important but largely overlooked implications for community and ecosystem processes.


decomposers; ecosystem retrogression; inter-year variation; island size; net primary productivity; northern Sweden; soil fertility; stability; temporal variability

Published in

2012, Volume: 93, number: 3, pages: 521-531