Grazers : biocatalysts of terrestrial silica cycling
Faculty of Sciences. Biology
Proceedings of the Royal Society B: biological sciences
, p. 1-9
University of Antwerp
Silica is well known for its role as inducible defence mechanism countering herbivore attack, mainly through precipitation of opaline, biogenic silica (BSi) bodies (phytoliths) in plant epidermal tissues. Even though grazing strongly interacts with other element cycles, its impact on terrestrial silica cycling has never been thoroughly considered. Here, BSi content of ingested grass, hay and faeces of large herbivores was quantified by performing multiple chemical extraction procedures for BSi, allowing the assessment of chemical reactivity. Dissolution experiments with grass and faeces were carried out to measure direct availability of BSi for dissolution. Average BSi and readily soluble silica numbers were higher in faeces as compared with grass or hay, and differences between herbivores could be related to distinct digestive strategies. Reactivity and dissolvability of BSi increases after digestion, mainly due to degradation of organic matrices, resulting in higher silica turnover rates and mobilization potential from terrestrial to aquatic ecosystems in non-grazed versus grazed pasture systems (2 versus 20 kg Si ha−1 y−1). Our results suggest a crucial yet currently unexplored role of herbivores in determining silica export from land to ocean, where its availability is linked to eutrophication events and carbon sequestration through CSi diatom interactions.