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Research article2003Peer reviewed

Herbivore-mediated linkages between aboveground and belowground communities

Bardgett RD, Wardle DA


Understanding how terrestrial ecosystems function requires a combined aboveground-belowground approach, because of the importance of feedbacks that occur between herbivores, producers, and the decomposer subsystem. In this paper, we identify several mechanisms by which herbivores can indirectly affect decomposer organisms and soil processes through altering the quantity and quality of resources entering the soil. We show that these mechanisms are broadly similar in nature for both foliar and root herbivory, regardless of whether they operate in the short term as a result of physiological responses of individual plants to herbivore attack or long-term following alteration of plant community structure, by herbivores and subsequent changes in the quality of litter inputs to soil. We propose that a variety of possible mechanisms is responsible for the idiosyncratic nature of herbivore effects on soil biota and ecosystem function; positive, negative, or neutral effects of herbivory are possible depending upon the balance of these different mechanisms. However, we predict that positive effects of herbivory on soil biota and soil processes are most common in ecosystems of high soil fertility and high consumption rates, whereas negative effects are most common in unproductive ecosystems with low consumption rates. The significance of multiple-species herbivore communities is also emphasized, and we propose that if resource use complementarity among herbivore species or functional groups leads to greater total consumption of phytomass, and thus greater net herbivory, then both positive and negative consequences of increasing herbivore diversity for belowground properties and processes are theoretically possible. Research priorities are highlighted and include a need for comparative studies of herbivore impacts on above- and belowground processes across ecosystems of varying productivity, as well as a heed for experimental testing of the influence of antiherbivore defense compounds on complex multitrophic interactions in the rhizosphere and the significance of multiple herbivore species communities on these plant-soil interactions

Published in

2003, Volume: 84, number: 9, pages: 2258-2268

      SLU Authors

    • Wardle, David

      • Department of Forest Vegetation Ecology, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences

    UKÄ Subject classification

    Forest Science

    Publication identifier


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