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Land‐use history alters contemporary insect herbivore community composition and decouples plant–herbivore relationships
- Hahn, Philip G., Orrock, John L., Behmer, Spencer
- The journal of animal ecology 2015 v.84 no.3 pp. 745-754
- Acrididae, Pinus palustris, Tettigoniidae, agricultural land, community structure, correlation, environmental factors, grasshoppers, habitats, hardness, herbaceous plants, herbivores, land use, plant communities, plant litter, plant-insect relations, prescribed burning, woodlands
- Past land use can create altered soil conditions and plant communities that persist for decades, although the effects of these altered conditions on consumers are rarely investigated. Using a large‐scale field study at 36 sites in longleaf pine (Pinus palustris) woodlands, we examined whether historic agricultural land use leads to differences in the abundance and community composition of insect herbivores (grasshoppers, families Acrididae and Tettigoniidae). We measured the cover of six plant functional groups and several environmental variables to determine whether historic agricultural land use affects the relationships between plant cover or environmental conditions and grasshopper assemblages. Land‐use history had taxa‐specific effects and interacted with herbaceous plant cover to alter grasshopper abundances, leading to significant changes in community composition. Abundance of most grasshopper taxa increased with herbaceous cover in woodlands with no history of agriculture, but there was no relationship in post‐agricultural woodlands. We also found that grasshopper abundance was negatively correlated with leaf litter cover. Soil hardness was greater in post‐agricultural sites (i.e. more compacted) and was associated with grasshopper community composition. Both herbaceous cover and leaf litter cover are influenced by fire frequency, suggesting a potential indirect role of fire on grasshopper assemblages. Our results demonstrate that historic land use may create persistent differences in the composition of grasshopper assemblages, while contemporary disturbances (e.g. prescribed fire) may be important for determining the abundance of grasshoppers, largely through the effect of fire on plants and leaf litter. Therefore, our results suggest that changes in the contemporary management regimes (e.g. increasing prescribed fire) may not be sufficient to shift the structure of grasshopper communities in post‐agricultural sites towards communities in non‐agricultural habitats. Rather, repairing degraded soil conditions and restoring plant communities are likely necessary for restoring grasshopper assemblages in post‐agricultural woodlands.