Foliar fungal pathogens and grassland biodiversity

E. Allan, J. van Ruijven, M.J. Crawley

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

38 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

By attacking plants, herbivorous mammals, insects, and belowground pathogens are known to play an important role in maintaining biodiversity in grasslands. Foliar fungal pathogens are ubiquitous in grassland ecosystems, but little is known about their role as drivers of community composition and diversity. Here we excluded foliar fungal pathogens from perennial grassland by using fungicide to determine the effect of natural levels of disease on an otherwise undisturbed plant community. Importantly, we excluded foliar fungal pathogens along with rabbits, insects, and mollusks in a full factorial design, which allowed a comparison of pathogen effects along with those of better studied plant enemies. This revealed that fungal pathogens substantially reduced aboveground plant biomass and promoted plant diversity and that this especially benefited legumes. The scale of pathogen effects on productivity and biodiversity was similar to that of rabbits and insects, but different plant species responded to the exclusion of the three plant enemies. These results suggest that theories of plant coexistence and management of biodiversity in grasslands should consider foliar fungal pathogens as potentially important drivers of community composition
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2572-2582
JournalEcology
Volume91
Issue number9
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2010

Keywords

  • plant diversity
  • resource availability
  • seedling recruitment
  • vegetation dynamics
  • species composition
  • natural vegetation
  • nitrogen dynamics
  • phellinus-weirii
  • oak savanna
  • herbivores

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