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Ecology. 2008 Jan;89(1):216-25.

Direct and indirect control of grassland community structure by litter, resources, and biomass.

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  • 1Department of Biological Sciences, CW 315 Biological Sciences Building University of Alberta, Edmonton, Alberta T6G 2E9, Canada.


Multiple factors linked through complex networks of interaction including fertilization, aboveground biomass, and litter control the diversity of plant communities. The challenge of explaining plant diversity is to determine not only how each individual mechanism directly influences diversity, but how those mechanisms indirectly influence diversity through interactions with other mechanisms. This approach is well established in the study of plant species richness, but surprisingly little effort has been dedicated toward understanding the controls of community evenness, despite the recognition that this aspect of diversity can influence a variety of critical ecosystem functions. Similarly, studies of diversity have predominantly focused on the influence of shoot, rather than root, biomass, despite the fact that the majority of plant biomass is belowground in many natural communities. In this study, I examine the roles of belowground biomass, live aboveground biomass, litter, and light availability in controlling the species richness and evenness of a rough fescue grassland community using structural equation modeling. Litter was the primary mechanism structuring grassland diversity, with both richness and evenness declining with increasing litter cover. There were few relationships between shoot biomass, shading, and diversity, and more importantly, no relationship between root biomass and diversity. The lack of relationship between root biomass and species richness and evenness suggests that, even though root competition in grasslands is intense, belowground interactions may not play an important role in structuring community diversity or composition.

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