Published July 14, 2022 | Version v1
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Data collected for: The contrasted impacts of grasshoppers on soil microbial activities in function of ecosystem productivity and herbivore diet

  • 1. University of Savoy


Herbivory can have contrasted impacts on soil microbes and nutrient cycling, which has stimulated the development of conceptual frameworks exploring the links between below- and aboveground processes. The "productivity model" predicts that herbivores stimulate microbial activities and accelerate nutrient mineralization in productive ecosystems, while they have an opposite effect in less productive ecosystems. In parallel, the "diet model" predicts that herbivores feeding on conservative plants accelerate nutrient cycling while those feeding on exploitative plants decelerate nutrient cycling, due to changes in litter inputs. Since these two frameworks can lead to conflicting predictions in some cases, experimental evidence combining herbivore diet and productivity is required.

During two consecutive years, we conducted an experiment controlling the presence of three grasshopper species consuming either grasses, forbs or both in twelve natural and managed alpine grasslands of contrasted productivities. In order to assess the effects of herbivory on soil microbes, we measured their enzymatic activities, their biomass and the soil potential nitrogen mineralization (PNM). Soil and vegetation characteristics were also determined in order to test if they modulated the effects of herbivory on microbes.

Contrary to the predictions of the diet model, the effects of herbivory on microbial characteristics did not depend on the herbivores diet but relied on ecosystem productivity. The most productive sites were characterized by exploitative plant species which depleted N resources in the soil, and by microbes producing relatively few extracellular enzymes, leading to a lower PNM. Herbivory increased microbial biomass and decreased the production of extracellular enzymes in those sites, possibly through the stimulation of root exudates produced by exploitative species. The least productive sites were characterized by conservative plants, which led to the sequestration of soil C, and by microbes having a resource acquisition strategy (more extracellular enzymes, higher PNM). Herbivory decreased microbial biomass and increased the production of extracellular enzymes in those sites. This pattern can be explained by the loss of carbon associated with insect respiration, which increases the need for microbes to acquire resources and by a lower production of root exudates by conservative species. Therefore, the effects of two years of herbivory on soil microbes were at odds with the productivity model, which focuses instead on longer term effects corresponding to herbivory-induced changes in plant species composition. This highlights the multidimensional feature of the impacts of herbivory on ecosystem functioning, both in space and time.


Funding provided by: BiodivERsA/FACCE‐JPI*
Crossref Funder Registry ID:
Award Number: BiodivERsA/001/2014

Funding provided by: Laboratoire d'Ecologie Alpine*
Crossref Funder Registry ID:
Award Number:


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Is cited by
10.1101/2022.07.04.497718 (DOI)
Is source of
10.5061/dryad.5tb2rbp6j (DOI)