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Ecology. 2006 Nov;87(11):2746-54.

Bottom-up regulation of plant community structure in an aridland ecosystem.

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Department of Biology, Castetter Hall, University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, New Mexico 87131, USA.


We conducted a long-term rodent exclosure experiment in native grass- and shrub-dominated vegetation to evaluate the importance of top-down and bottom-up controls on plant community structure in a low-productivity aridland ecosystem. Using multiple regressions and analysis of covariance, we assessed how bottom-up precipitation pulses cascade through vegetation to affect rodent populations, how rodent populations affect plant community structure, and how rodents alter rates of plant community change over time. Our findings showed that bottom-up pulses cascade through the system, increasing the abundances of plants and rodents, and that rodents exerted no control on plant community structure and rate of change in grass-dominated vegetation, and only limited control in shrub-dominated vegetation. These results were discussed in the context of top-down effects on plant communities across broad gradients of primary productivity. We conclude that bottom-up regulation maintains this ecosystem in a state of low primary productivity that constrains the abundance of consumers such that they exert limited influence on plant community structure and dynamics.

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