Angiosperm genome sizes (GS) vary ca 2400-fold. Recent research has shown that GS influences plant abundance, and plant competition. There are also tantalizing reports that herbivores may select plants as food dependent on their GS. To test the hypothesis that GS plays a role in shaping plant communities under herbivore pressure, we exploit a grassland experiment that has experimentally excluded herbivores and applied nutrient over 8 years. Using phylogenetically informed statistical models and path analyses, we show that under rabbit grazing, plant species with small GS generated the most biomass. By contrast, on mollusc and insect-grazed plots, it was the plant species with larger GS that increased in biomass. GS was also shown to influence plant community properties (e.g. competitive strategy, total biomass) although the impact varied between different herbivore guilds (i.e. rabbits versus invertebrates) and nutrient inputs. Overall, we demonstrate that GS plays a role in influencing plant–herbivore interactions, and suggest potential reasons for this response, which include the impact of GS on a plant's response to different herbivore guilds, and on a plant's nutrient quality. The inclusion of GS in ecological models has the potential to expand our understanding of plant productivity and community ecology under nutrient and herbivore stress.
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Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew
- Journal title
Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
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