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Variation in Insect Densities on Desert Creosotebush: Is Nitrogen a Factor?

Lightfoot, David C., Whitford, Walter G.
Ecology 1987 v.68 no.3 pp. 547-557
Larrea tridentata, arthropods, field experimentation, irrigation, leaves, nitrogen, nitrogen content, nitrogen fertilizers, phytophagous insects, shrubs, spring, summer, Chihuahuan Desert
A field experiment was conducted to assess the effects of nitrogen and water on the densities and taxonomic and trophic compositions of arthropods on the foilage of desert creosotebush (Larrea tridentata). Nitrogen and water were manipulated through a series of fertilizer and irrigation treatments applied to naturally growing creosotebush shrubs at a site in the northern Chihuahuan Desert. Water with nitrogen, and nitrogen fertilization alone, significantly increased creosotebush foliage production and foliar nitrogen contents. Water alone had less effect on foliage production and no effect on foliar nitrogen contents. Foliage production, foliar nitrogen contents, and numbers of foliage arthropods were all higher in the late spring than in the mid or late summer. Numbers of foliage arthropods increased significantly on fertilized plants in the late spring. Water treatments alone had no effect on numbers of foliage arthropods, but a positive water—fertilizer interaction effect on numbers of foliage arthropods was evident in the late spring. Overall, there were significant positive correlations between foliage production, foliar nitrogen contents, and foliage arthropod densities. Phytophagous sap—sucking insects accounted for the majority of arthropods on creosotebush, and their densities varied most in relation to foliage production and foliar nitrogen contents. Results of our study demonstrated that sap—sucking phytophagous insects are more responsive than leaf—chewing insects to increased nitrogen content of creosotebush foliage, and that much of the between—plant variation in densities of phytophagous insects within a stand of creosotebush may be due to sap—sucking insects tracking variable foliar nitrogen.