Species decline under nitrogen fertilization increases community-level competence of fungal diseases

Xiang Liu, Shengman Lyu, Dexin Sun, Corey Bradshaw, Shurong Zhou

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    63 Citations (Scopus)


    The artificial fertilization of soils can alter the structure of natural plant communities and exacerbate pathogen emergence and transmission. Although the direct effects of fertilization on disease resistance in plants have received some research attention, its indirect effects of altered community structure on the severity of fungal disease infection remain largely uninvestigated. We designed manipulation experiments in natural assemblages of Tibetan alpine meadow vegetation along a nitrogen-fertilization gradient over 5 years to compare the relative importance of direct and indirect effects of fertilization on foliar fungal infections at the community level. We found that species with lower proneness to pathogens were more likely to be extirpated following fertilization, such that community-level competence of disease, and thus community pathogen load, increased with the intensity of fertilization. The amount of nitrogen added (direct effect) and community disease competence (indirect effect) provided the most parsimonious combination of parameters explaining the variation in disease severity. Our experiment provides a mechanistic explanation for the dilution effect in fertilized, natural assemblages in a highly specific pathogen–host system, and thus insights into the consequences of human ecosystem modifications on the dynamics of infectious diseases.

    Original languageEnglish
    Article number20162621
    Pages (from-to)Art: 20162621
    Number of pages9
    JournalProceedings of The Royal Society of London Series B: Biological Sciences
    Issue number1847
    Publication statusPublished - 25 Jan 2017


    • Alpine meadow
    • Community competence
    • Dilution effect
    • Diversity–disease relationship
    • Foliar fungal disease
    • Nitrogen addition


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