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Title

Subtle Gardeners: Inland Predators Enrich Local Topsoils and Enhance Plant Growth

AuthorsFedriani, José M. ; Garrote, Pedro J.; Delgado, María del Mar ; Penteriani, Vincenzo
Issue Date2015
PublisherPublic Library of Science
CitationPLoS ONE 10(9): e0138273 (2015)
AbstractInland vertebrate predators could enrich of nutrients the local top soils in the area surrounding their nests and dens by depositing faeces, urine, and prey remains and, thus, alter the dynamics of plant populations. Surprisingly, and in contrast with convincing evidence from coastal habitats, whether and how this phenomenon occurs in inland habitats is largely uncertain even though these habitats represent a major fraction of the earth's surface. We investigated during two consecutive breeding seasons the potential enrichment of the topsoils associated with inland ground-nesting eagle owls Bubo bubo, as well as its possible consequences in the growth of two common annual grasses in southern Spain. Top-soils associated with owl nests differed strongly and significantly from control top-soils in chemical parameters, mainly fertility-related properties. Specifically, levels of available phosphorus, total nitrogen, organic matter, and available potassium were 49.1, 5.6, 3.1, and 2.7 times higher, respectively, in top-soils associated with owl nests as compared to control top-soils. Germination experiments in chambers indicated that nutrient enrichment by nesting owls enhanced seedling growth in both annual grasses (Phalaris canariensis and Avena sativa), with seedling size being 1.4–1.3 times higher in owl nest top-soils than in control top-soils. Our experimental study revealed that pervasive inland, predatory birds can profoundly enrich the topsoil around their nests and, thus, potentially enhance local vegetation growth. Because diverse inland vertebrate predators are widespread in most habitats they have a strong potential to enhance spatial heterogeneity, impinge on plant communities, and exert an overlooked effect on primary productivity worldwide.
Publisher version (URL)http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/ journal.pone.0138273
URIhttp://hdl.handle.net/10261/126126
DOI10.1371/ journal.pone.0138273
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