At least two distinct trade-offs are thought to facilitate higher diversity in productive plant communities under herbivory. Higher investment in defence and enhanced colonization potential may both correlate with decreased competitive ability in plants. Herbivory may thus promote coexistence of plant species exhibiting divergent life history strategies. How different seasonally tied herbivore assemblages simultaneously affect plant community composition and diversity is, however, largely unknown. Two contrasting types of herbivory can be distinguished in the aquatic vegetation of the shallow lake Lauwersmeer. In summer, predominantly above-ground tissues are eaten, whereas in winter, waterfowl forage on below-ground plant propagules. In a 4-year exclosure study we experimentally separated above-ground herbivory by waterfowl and large fish in summer from below-ground herbivory by Bewick’s swans in winter. We measured the individual and combined effects of both herbivory periods on the composition of the three-species aquatic plant community. Herbivory effect sizes varied considerably from year to year. In 2 years herbivore exclusion in summer reinforced dominance of Potamogeton pectinatus with a concomitant decrease in Potamogeton pusillus, whereas no strong, unequivocal effect was observed in the other 2 years. Winter exclusion, on the other hand, had a negative effect on Zannichellia palustris, but the effect size differed considerably between years. We suggest that the colonization ability of Z. palustris may have enabled this species to be more abundant after reduction of P. pectinatus tuber densities by swans. Evenness decreased due to herbivore exclusion in summer. We conclude that seasonally tied above- and below-ground herbivory may each stimulate different components of a macrophyte community as they each favoured a different subordinate plant species.
Hidding, B., Nolet, B. A., De Boer, T., De Vries, P. P., & Klaassen, M. R. J. (2010). Above- and below-ground vertebrate herbivory may each favour a different subordinate species in an aquatic plant community. Oecologia, 162(1), 199-208. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00442-009-1450-6