Complex interactions between ecosystem productivity and herbivore diets lead to non-predicted effects on nutrient cycling
The contrasted impacts of grasshoppers on soil microbial activities in function of primary production and herbivore diet
Recommendation: posted 12 December 2022, validated 14 December 2022
The authors present a study typical of the field of belowground-aboveground interactions . This framework has been extremely fruitful since the beginning of 2000s . It has also contributed to bridge the gap between soil ecology and the rest of ecology . The study also pertains to the rich field on the impacts of herbivores on soil functioning .
The study more precisely tested during two years the effect on nutrient cycling of the interaction between the type of grassland (along a gradient of biomass productivity) and the diet of the community of insect herbivores (5 treatments manipulating the grasshopper community on 1 m2 plots, with a gradient from no grasshopper to grasshoppers either specialized on forbs or grasses). What seems extremely interesting is that the study is based on a rigorous hypothesis-testing approach. They compare the predictions of two frameworks: (1) The “productivity model” predicts that in productive ecosystems herbivores consume a high percentage of the net primary production thus accelerating nutrient cycling. (2) The “diet model” distinguishes herbivores consuming exploitative plants from those eating conservative plants. The former (later) type of herbivores favours conservative (exploitative) plants therefore decelerating (accelerating) nutrient cycling. Interestingly, the two frameworks have similar predictions (and symmetrically opposite predictions) in two cases out of four combinations between ecosystem productivities and types of diet (see Table 1). An other merit of the study is to combine in a rather comprehensive way all the necessary measurements to test these frameworks in combination: grasshopper diet, soil properties, characteristics of the soil microbial community, plant traits, vegetation survey and plant biomass.
The results were in contradiction with the ‘‘diet model’’: microbial properties and nitrogen cycling did not depend on grasshopper diet. The productivity of the grasslands did impact nutrient cycling but not in the direction predicted by the “productivity model”: productive grasslands hosted exploitative plants that depleted N resources in the soil and microbes producing few extracellular enzymes, which led to a lower potential N mineralization and a deceleration of nutrient cycling. Because, the authors stuck to their original hypotheses (that were not confirmed), they were able to discuss in a very relevant way their results and to propose some interpretations, at least partially based on the time scales involved by the productivity and diet models.
Beyond all the merits of this article, I think that two issues remain largely open in relation with the dynamics of the studied systems, and would deserve future research efforts. First, on the ‘‘short’’ term (up to several decades), can we predict how the communities of plants, soil microbes, and herbivores interact to drive the dynamics of the ecosystems? Second, at the evolutionary time scale, can we understand and predict the interactions between the evolution of plant, microbe and herbivore strategies and the consequences for the functioning of the grasslands? The two issues are difficult because of the multiple feedbacks involved. One way to go further would be to complement the empirical approach with models along existing research avenues [5, 6].
 Ibanez S, Foulquier A, Brun C, Colace M-P, Piton G, Bernard L, Gallet C, Clément J-C (2022) The contrasted impacts of grasshoppers on soil microbial activities in function of primary production and herbivore diet. bioRxiv, 2022.07.04.497718, ver. 2 peer-reviewed and recommended by Peer Community in Ecology. https://doi.org/10.1101/2022.07.04.497718
 Hooper, D. U., Bignell, D. E., Brown, V. K., Brussaard, L., Dangerfield, J. M., Wall, D. H., Wardle, D. A., Coleman, D. C., Giller, K. E., Lavelle, P., Van der Putten, W. H., De Ruiter, P. C., et al. 2000. Interactions between aboveground and belowground biodiversity in terretrial ecosystems: patterns, mechanisms, and feedbacks. BioScience, 50, 1049-1061. https://doi.org/10.1641/0006-3568(2000)050[1049:IBAABB]2.0.CO;2
 Barot, S., Blouin, M., Fontaine, S., Jouquet, P., Lata, J.-C., and Mathieu, J. 2007. A tale of four stories: soil ecology, theory, evolution and the publication system. PLoS ONE, 2, e1248. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0001248
 Bardgett, R. D., and Wardle, D. A. 2003. Herbivore-mediated linkages between aboveground and belowground communities. Ecology, 84, 2258-2268. https://doi.org/10.1890/02-0274
 Barot, S., Bornhofen, S., Loeuille, N., Perveen, N., Shahzad, T., and Fontaine, S. 2014. Nutrient enrichment and local competition influence the evolution of plant mineralization strategy, a modelling approach. J. Ecol., 102, 357-366. https://doi.org/10.1111/1365-2745.12200
 Schweitzer, J. A., Juric, I., van de Voorde, T. F. J., Clay, K., van der Putten, W. H., Bailey, J. K., and Fox, C. 2014. Are there evolutionary consequences of plant-soil feedbacks along soil gradients? Func. Ecol., 28, 55-64. https://doi.org/10.1111/1365-2435.12201
Sébastien Barot (2022) Complex interactions between ecosystem productivity and herbivore diets lead to non-predicted effects on nutrient cycling. Peer Community in Ecology, 100105. https://doi.org/10.24072/pci.ecology.100105
The recommender in charge of the evaluation of the article and the reviewers declared that they have no conflict of interest (as defined in the code of conduct of PCI) with the authors or with the content of the article. The authors declared that they comply with the PCI rule of having no financial conflicts of interest in relation to the content of the article.
This work was funded by the ECO-SERVE project through the 2013–2014 BiodivERsA/FACCE‐JPI joint call for research proposals, with the national funders ANR, NWO, FCT (BiodivERsA/001/2014), MINECO, FORMAS and SNF. This work was also funded by the Alpine Ecology Lab. We
Evaluation round #1
DOI or URL of the preprint: https://doi.org/10.1101/2022.07.04.497718
Version of the preprint: 1
Author's Reply, 10 Dec 2022
Decision by Sébastien Barot, posted 17 Oct 2022, validated 17 Oct 2022
I concur with the two reviewers to think that the manuscript is interesting and based on a sound experiment. I particularly like the way two contrasted hypotheses are tested and the fact that the impacts of the treatments are documented through many relevant variables. Working on the impact of herbivore insect on soil functioning is relatively original. Nevertheless, the two reviewers have made numerous valuable comments that should help improving the manuscript. Overall, my general comment is that the theory behind the hypothesis to be tested is relatively complicated, that the data and the combinations of treatments are also relatively difficult to understand. Therefore, any effort to make the text crystal clear and to fully clarify each step of the rationale would be welcomed.