Episodic herbivory, plant density dependence, and stimulation of aboveground plant production

Mark E. Ritchie, Jacob F. Penner

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


Herbivory is a major energy transfer within ecosystems; an open question is under what circumstances it can stimulate aboveground seasonal primary production. Despite multiple field demonstrations, past theory considered herbivory as a continuous process and found stimulation of seasonal production to be unlikely. Here, we report a new theoretical model that explores the consequences of discrete herbivory events, or episodes, separated in time. We discovered that negative density (biomass) dependence of plant growth, such as might be expected from resource limitation of plant growth, favors stimulation of seasonal production by infrequent herbivory events under a wide range of herbivory intensities and maximum plant relative growth rates. Results converge to those of previous models under repeated, short-interval herbivory, which generally reduces seasonal production. Model parameters were estimated with new and previous data from the Serengeti ecosystem. Patterns of observed frequent and large magnitude stimulated production in these data agreed generally with those predicted by the episodic herbivory model. The model thus may provide a new framework for evaluating the sustainability and impact of herbivory.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)5302-5314
Number of pages13
JournalEcology and Evolution
Issue number12
StatePublished - Jun 1 2020


  • Serengeti
  • aboveground primary production
  • density dependence
  • episodic herbivory
  • grasslands
  • grazing
  • herbivory
  • herbivory event
  • plants
  • relative growth rate

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Ecology
  • Nature and Landscape Conservation


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