The variable effects of soil nitrogen availability and insect herbivory on aboveground and belowground plant biomass in an old-field ecosystem

Nutrient availability and herbivory can regulate primary production in ecosystems, but little is known about how, or whether, they may interact with one another. Here, we investigate how nitrogen availability and insect herbivory interact to alter aboveground and belowground plant community biomass in an old-Weld ecosystem. In 2004, we established 36 experimental plots in which we manipulated soil nitrogen (N) availability and insect abundance in a completely randomized plot design. In 2009, after 6 years of treatments, we measured aboveground biomass and assessed root production at peak growth. Overall, we found a signiWcant eVect of reduced soil N availability on aboveground biomass and belowground plant biomass production. SpeciWcally, responses of aboveground and belowground community biomass to nutrients were driven by reductions in soil N, but not additions, indicating that soil N may not be limiting primary production in this ecosystem. Insects reduced the aboveground biomass of subdominant plant species and decreased coarse root production. We found no statistical interactions between N availability and insect herbivory for any response variable. Overall, the results of 6 years of nutrient manipulations and insect removals suggest strong bottom-up inXuences on total plant community productivity but more subtle eVects of insect herbivores on aspects of aboveground and belowground production.