Sodium co-limits and catalyzes macronutrients in a prairie food web

Nitrogen and phosphorus frequently limit terrestrial plant production, but have a mixed record in regulating the abundance of terrestrial invertebrates. We contrasted four ways that Na could interact with an NP fertilizer to shape the plants and invertebrates of an inland prairie. We applied NP and Na to m(2) plots in a factorial design. Aboveground invertebrate abundance was independently co-limited by NaCl and NP, but with +NP plots supporting more individuals. We suggest the disparity arises because NP enhanced plant height by 35% (1 SD) over controls, providing both food and habitat, whereas NaCl provides only food. Belowground invertebrates showed evidence of serial co-limitation, where NaCl additions alone were ineffectual, but catalyzed access to NP. This suggests the increased belowground food availability in NP plots increased Na demand. Na and NP supply rates vary with climate, land use, and with inputs like urine. The co-limitation and catalysis of N and P by Na thus has the potential for predicting patterns of abundance and diversity across spatial scales.