Indirect Effects of Invertebrate Herbivory on the Decomposer Subsystem

  • D. A. Wardle
  • R. D. Bardgett
Part of the Ecological Studies book series (ECOLSTUD, volume 173)


Invertebrate herbivores can exert important effects on the decomposer subsystem through a range of mechanisms. In this chapter, we review the mechanistic bases through which invertebrate herbivory may affect the quantity and quality of plant-derived resources entering the soil. We identify four main types of mechanisms through which this may occur: (1) herbivores can influence resource quantity, both in the short term through promoting rhizosphere exudation and in the long term through optimizing or reducing net primary productivity (NPP); (2) herbivores may affect litter quality, either positively through causing greater tissue nutrient concentrations or negatively through inducing plants to produce secondary defence compounds; (3) herbivores sometimes return a significant proportion of NPP to the soil as fecal material, which can have very different consequences to plant litter for decomposers; (4) in the longer term herbivores can significantly alter the functional composition of vegetation which can in turn determine the quality of litter returned to the soil. There are therefore numerous ways in which invertebrate herbivores can affect decomposers either positively or negatively, and these can exert important aboveground feedbacks. Some of the most significant effects of invertebrate herbivores in ecosystems occur during periodic population outbreaks, and the likely consequences of this for the decomposer subsystem are discussed. Usually, herbivores occur in multiple species communities, which leads to the question of how herbivore diversity affects decomposer processes; while there is a dearth of information available on the topic, there are plausible mechanisms whereby such effects could theoretically occur. It is concluded that, since all ecosystems depend upon both the producer and decomposer subsystems, a more complete understanding of ecosystem-level consequences of invertebrate herbivory can only be gained through the application of approaches that explicitly consider both subsystems, as well as the feedbacks between them.


Soil Microbial Biomass Root Herbivory Invertebrate Herbivore Population Outbreak Vertebrate Herbivore 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  • D. A. Wardle
  • R. D. Bardgett

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