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Other publication - Peer-reviewed, 2014

Herbivory makes major contributions to ecosystem carbon and nutrient cycling in tropical forests

Metcalfe, Daniel; Asner, Gregory P.; Martin, Roberta E.; Espejo, Javier E. Silva; Huasco, Walter Huarca; Amézquita, Felix F. Farfán; Carranza-Jimenez, Loreli; Galiano-Cabrera, Darcy F.; Durand-Baca, Liliana; Sinca, Felipe; Huaraca-Quispe, Lidia P.; Alzamora-Taype, Ivonne; Eguiluz-Mora, Luzmila; Rozas-Dávila, Angela; Solórzano, Marlene Mamani; Vilca, Beisit L. Puma; Román, Judith M. Laupa; Bustios, Patricia C. Guerra; Salinas-Revilla, Norma; Tupayachi, Raul;
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The functional role of herbivores in tropical rainforests remains poorly understood. We quantified the magnitude of, and underlying controls on, carbon, nitrogen and phosphorus cycled by invertebrate herbivory along a 2800m elevational gradient in the tropical Andes spanning 12 degrees C mean annual temperature. We find, firstly, that leaf area loss is greater at warmer sites with lower foliar phosphorus, and secondly, that the estimated herbivore-mediated flux of foliar nitrogen and phosphorus from plants to soil via leaf area loss is similar to, or greater than, other major sources of these nutrients in tropical forests. Finally, we estimate that herbivores consume a significant portion of plant carbon, potentially causing major shifts in the pattern of plant and soil carbon cycling. We conclude that future shifts in herbivore abundance and activity as a result of environmental change could have major impacts on soil fertility and ecosystem carbon sequestration in tropical forests.


Climate change; ecosystem biogeochemistry; net primary productivity; nitrogen cycle; plant-soil feedbacks; soil phosphorus; montane rainforest

Published in

Ecology Letters
2014, volume: 17, number: 3, pages: 324-332

Authors' information

Metcalfe, Daniel
Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Department of Forest Ecology and Management
Asner, Gregory P.
Martin, Roberta E.
Espejo, Javier E. Silva
Huasco, Walter Huarca
Amézquita, Felix F. Farfán
Carranza-Jimenez, Loreli
Galiano-Cabrera, Darcy F.
Durand-Baca, Liliana
Sinca, Felipe
Huaraca-Quispe, Lidia P.
Alzamora-Taype, Ivonne
Eguiluz-Mora, Luzmila
Rozas-Dávila, Angela
Solórzano, Marlene Mamani
Vilca, Beisit L. Puma
Román, Judith M. Laupa
Bustios, Patricia C. Guerra
Salinas-Revilla, Norma
Tupayachi, Raul
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Associated SLU-program

SLU Network Plant Protection

UKÄ Subject classification

Forest Science

Publication Identifiers


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