Arfin Khan, MAS; Grant, K; Beierkuhnlein, C; Kreyling, J; Jentsch, A: Climatic extremes lead to species-specific legume facilitation in an experimental temperate grassland, Plant and Soil, 379(1-2), 161-175 (2014), doi:10.1007/s11104-014-2050-8
Background Nitrogen-fixing legumes are key species in grassland ecosystems, as their ability to fix atmospheric nitrogen can facilitate neighboring plants. However, little is known about the fate of this legume effect in the face of extreme weather events, which are increasingly expected to occur. Methods Here, we examined experimentally how the presence of a legume modifies above-ground net primary production (ANPP) and nitrogen supply of neighboring non-legumes under annually recurrent pulsed drought and heavy rainfall events by comparing responses of three key species in European grassland versus without legume presence over 4 years. Results Legume presence facilitated community productivity of neighboring non-legumes under ambient weather conditions and also under experimental heavy rainfall. However, no facilitation of community productivity by the legume was found under experimental drought. Productivity of the three target species responded species-specifically to legume presence under different weather conditions: Holcus lanatus was facilitated only under control conditions, Plantago lanceolata was facilitated only under heavy rainfall, and Arrhenatherum elatius was facilitated irrespective of climate manipulations. The legume effects on δ15N, leaf N concentration, and N uptake were also species-specific, yet irrespective of the climate manipulations. The data suggest that the missing legume effect on community productivity under the pulsed drought was rather caused by reduced N-uptake of the target species than by reduced N-fixation by the legume. Conclusions In contrast to heavy rain, the presence of a legume could not effectively buffer community ANPP against the negative effects of extreme drought events in an experimental temperate grassland. Facilitation also depends on the key species that are dominating a grass land community.
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