Loss of native herbivores triggers diversity decline of ephemeral plant communities

Fernandez-Murillo, Maria del Pilar; Alfaro, Fernando Daniel; Craven, Dylan; Gutierrez, Julio Roberto; Kelt, Douglas A.; Meserve, Peter L.; Troncoso, Alejandra J.


Aim: Evaluate the temporal changes in species diversity, composition, and structure of ephemeral plant communities and the seed bank in response to long-term herbivore exclusion over 11 years in plots with and without herbivores.LocationNorth-central Chile.Methods: We obtained information on ephemeral vegetation cover in August and September using the intercept point method and recorded seed abundance in April. The Bosque Fray Jorge National Park Long-Term Socio-Ecological Research (LTSER) provided these records covering 11 years (2009-2019). From the original experiment of 20 plots, we used eight plots divided into two treatments: four plots allowed free access to all herbivores (with herbivores), while the other four plots excluded herbivores (without herbivores).Results: We found that Hill-Shannon diversity increased in plant communities with herbivores and a temporal increase in the cover of the dominant species, Plantago hispidula, under herbivore exclusion. In wet years, species richness and temporal turnover of plant communities increased independently of treatment. Although seed abundance differed among treatments and years, population structure remained constant over time and among treatments, suggesting that the seed bank acts as a buffer against shocks that modify plant community dynamics. Structural equation modeling revealed that precipitation, via its positive effects on Plantago hispidula, increases native plant richness to a greater extent than herbivores. However, in the absence of herbivores, precipitation directly affects native species richness. Moreover, we found that precipitation also influences the native species richness of the seed bank, both directly and indirectly, although its impacts exhibit a time lag.Conclusions: Our study demonstrates that the temporal dynamics of ephemeral plant communities and seed banks in semi-arid ecosystems are strongly coupled to climate variability, highlighting the vulnerability of these communities to biodiversity loss and climate change.

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Título según WOS: ID WOS:001084608800001 Not found in local WOS DB
Volumen: 34
Número: 5
Editorial: Wiley
Fecha de publicación: 2023


Notas: ISI