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Ellison Abstract- 2008 Butler et al

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Butler, J. L., N. J. Gotelli, and Ellison, A. M. 2008. Linking the brown and the green: transformation and fate of allochthonous nutrients in the Sarracenia microecosystem. Ecology 89: 898-904.


Linkages between detritus-based ("brown") food webs and producer-based ("green") food webs are critical components of ecosystem functionality, but these linkages are hard to study because it is difficult to measure release of nutrients by brown food webs and their subsequent uptake by plants. In a 3-month greenhouse experiment, we examined how the detritus-based food web inhabiting rain-filled leaves of the pitcher plant Sarracenia purpurea affects nitrogen transformation and its subsequent uptake by the plant itself. We used isotopically-enriched prey (detritus) and soluble inorganic nitrogen, and manipulated food web structure to determine whether the presence of a complete brown web influences uptake efficiency of nitrogen by the plant. Uptake efficiency of soluble inorganic nitrogen was greater than that of nitrogen derived from mineralized prey. Contrary to expectation, there was no effect of the presence in the food web of macroinvertebrates on uptake efficiency of either form of nitrogen. Further, uptake efficiency of prey-derived nitrogen did not differ significantly among S. purpurea and two congeneric species (S. flava and S. alata) that lack associated food webs. Although upper trophic levels of this brown food web actively process detritus, it is the activity of the microbial component of this web that ultimately determines nitrogen availability for S. purpurea.

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