Herbivory and Stoichiometric Feedbacks to Primary Production
Established theory addresses the idea that herbivory can have positive feedbacks on nutrient flow to plants. Positive feedbacks likely emerge from a greater availability of organic carbon that primes the soil by supporting nutrient turnover through consumer and especially microbially-mediated metabolism in the detrital pool. We developed an entirely novel stoichiometric model that demonstrates the mechanism of a positive feedback. In particular, we show that sloppy or partial feeding by herbivores increases detrital carbon and nitrogen allowing for greater nitrogen mineralization and nutritive feedback to plants. The model consists of differential equations coupling flows among pools of: plants, herbivores, detrital carbon and nitrogen, and inorganic nitrogen. We test the effects of different levels of herbivore grazing completion and of the stoichiometric quality (carbon to nitrogen ratio, C:N) of the host plant. Our model analyses show that partial feeding and plant C:N interact because when herbivores are sloppy and plant biomass is diverted to the detrital pool, more mineral nitrogen is available to plants because of the stoichiometric difference between the organisms in the detrital pool and the herbivore. This model helps to identify how herbivory may feedback positively on primary production, and it mechanistically connects direct and indirect feedbacks from soil to plant production.