More salt, please: global patterns, responses and impacts of foliar sodium in grasslands

E. T. Borer, E. M. Lind, J. Firn, E. W. Seabloom, T. M. Anderson, E. S. Bakker, L. Biederman, K. J. La Pierre, A. S. MacDougall, J. L. Moore, A. C. Risch, M. Schutz, C. J. Stevens

Research output: Contribution to journalLetterpeer-review

6 Scopus citations


Sodium is unique among abundant elemental nutrients, because most plant species do not require it for growth or development, whereas animals physiologically require sodium. Foliar sodium influences consumption rates by animals and can structure herbivores across landscapes. We quantified foliar sodium in 201 locally abundant, herbaceous species representing 32 families and, at 26 sites on four continents, experimentally manipulated vertebrate herbivores and elemental nutrients to determine their effect on foliar sodium. Foliar sodium varied taxonomically and geographically, spanning five orders of magnitude. Site-level foliar sodium increased most strongly with site aridity and soil sodium; nutrient addition weakened the relationship between aridity and mean foliar sodium. Within sites, high sodium plants declined in abundance with fertilisation, whereas low sodium plants increased. Herbivory provided an explanation: herbivores selectively reduced high nutrient, high sodium plants. Thus, interactions among climate, nutrients and the resulting nutritional value for herbivores determine foliar sodium biogeography in herbaceous-dominated systems.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1136-1144
Number of pages9
JournalEcology letters
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 2019

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was generated using data from the Nutrient Network experiment (, funded at the site-scale by individual researchers. Coordination and data management have been supported by funding to E. Borer and E. Seabloom from the National Science Foundation Research Coordination Network (NSF-DEB-1042132) and Long Term Ecological Research (NSF-DEB-1234162 to Cedar Creek LTER) programmes, and the Institute on the Environment (DG-0001-13). We also thank the Minnesota Supercomputer Institute for hosting project data and the Institute on the Environment and sDiv at the University of Leipzig for hosting Network meetings. We thank QUT’s Central Analytical Facilities (CARF), part of the Institute of Future Environments (IFE) for use of their facilities to analyse leaf elemental concentrations. Author contributions are listed in Table S11 and data contributors are listed in Table S12.


  • Biogeography
  • Nutrient Network (NutNet)
  • herbivory
  • nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, micronutrients
  • plant taxonomy

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