Trophic control of grassland production and biomass by pathogens


and present address: C. E. Mitchell, Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY 14850, USA E-mail:


Current theories of trophic regulation of ecosystem net primary production and plant biomass incorporate herbivores, but not plant pathogens. Obstacles to the incorporation of pathogens include a lack of data on pathogen effects on primary production, especially outside agricultural and forest ecosystems, and an apparent inability to quantify pathogen biomass. Here, I report the results of an experiment factorially excluding foliar fungal pathogens and insect herbivores from an intact grassland ecosystem. At peak in control plots, 8.9% of community leaf area was infected by pathogens. Disease reduction treatment dramatically increased root production and biomass by increasing leaf longevity and photosynthetic capacity. In contrast, herbivory reduction had no detectable effects at the ecosystem or leaf scale. Additionally, biomass of foliar fungal pathogens in the ecosystem was comparable with that of insect herbivores. These results identify pathogens as potential regulators of ecosystem processes and promote the incorporation of pathogens into trophic theory.