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.
Electronic supplementary material is available online at http://dx.doi.org/10.6084/m9.figshare.c.3662111.
- Received November 25, 2016.
- Accepted December 22, 2016.
- © 2017 The Author(s)
Published by the Royal Society. All rights reserved.