A research letter authored by Lizzie King and Kelly has just been published in New Phytologist.
A letter describing the results of Lizzie’s work in the Kenya Long Term Exclusion Experiment (KLEE) has just been published. The article demonstrates the interacting effects that mutualists and herbivory have on rates of leaf-level productivity in savanna vegetation. Most strikingly, we found that plants occupied by strongly mutualists ant species (black symbols in the figure to the right) have much higher (up to 50% greater) rates of leaf-level photosynthesis than plants those occupied by weakly mutualistic ant species. However, this difference was only manifested under conditions when the trees were actually being browsed by herbivores, so that no differences in leaf-level Pn rates were observed across varying ant occupants in unbrowsed trees.
This work suggests that tri-trophic interactions between mutualists, herbivores, and plants can have profound effects on the rate of carbon assimilation and water use in savanna vegetation. Furthermore, these differences in photosynthetic rates have important consequences on the true carbon cast of varying plant defense strategies in response to herbivory. We are looking forward to continuing this research as part of our group’s growing collaboration at the Kenya Long-term Exclusion Experiment.