Below-ground herbivory promotes soil nutrient transfer and root growth in grassland

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Extremely little is known about the ecosystem-level implications of below-ground herbivory, which often represents the dominant form of consumption of primary productivity. We provide the first empirical evidence that low levels of below-ground herbivory may promote soil nutrient flux and root growth of both host plants and companion plants. Low levels of white clover (Trifolium repens L.) root infection by clover cyst nematodes (Heterodera trifolii Goffart) increased root growth by 141% and 219% in the host plant and the uninfected neighbouring grass (Lolium perenne L.), respectively. Root infection increased the size of the soil microbial biomass in the root zone and the transfer of 15N from the host plant to soil and the neighbouring grass. These data suggest that low amounts of below-ground herbivory may increase the transfer of plant carbon and nitrogen below-ground, leading to increases in root growth and soil nutrient recycling in grasslands. Presumably, such interactions will influence the competitive interactions between plant species, altering plant community structure in grasslands.

Bibliographical metadata

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)357-360
Number of pages3
JournalEcology Letters
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 1999