Here we propose that herbivore-induced changes in leaf litter quality can modify aboveground litterfall dynamics differentially in evergreen and deciduous trees. Because aboveground plant litterfall is an important source of nutrients in terrestrial ecosystems, any factor that alters plant litter quality can have large "afterlife" effects on the decomposition rate of that litter and the subsequent rate of nutrient release. Two contrasting patterns emerge from the literature and are corroborated by our two experimental case studies. First, in evergreens, herbivory commonly results in premature leaf abscission, improved litter "quality" and an acceleration of litter decomposition. Second, in deciduous trees, herbivory commonly results in the induction of secondary compounds that decelerates decomposition. We argue that these broad patterns reflect predictable differential responses to herbivores that can have important consequences for terrestrial nutrient cycling and productivity and that warrant more attention in the literature.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics