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Responses of grassland arthropods to an invasion by nonnative grasses
- Andersen, Erik M., Cambrelin, Marion N., Steidl, Robert J.
- Biological invasions 2019 v.21 no.2 pp. 405-416
- Eragrostis curvula, Eragrostis lehmanniana, arthropod communities, arthropods, biogeochemical cycles, ecological invasion, ecosystems, energy flow, grasses, grasslands, habitats, herbaceous plants, herbivores, host plants, insectivores, leaves, predators, reproduction, surveys, Arizona
- In grassland ecosystems, invasions by nonnative grasses typically decrease floristic diversity and structural heterogeneity in ways that alter the quantity and quality of habitat for animals. Grassland arthropods that rely directly on herbaceous plants for food, shelter, or as substrates for reproduction are especially vulnerable to these invasions because many have evolved specialized relationships with host plants that might be displaced. We evaluated how invasions by nonnative grasses affected abundance and richness of foliage-dwelling arthropods in semidesert grasslands of Arizona, USA. On 90, 3.1-ha plots established along a gradient of invasion where dominance of nonnative grasses ranged from 0 to nearly 100% of grass cover, we captured > 90,000 arthropods from 11 orders during 270 surveys in 2014 and 2015. Although the invasion by nonnative grasses (primarily Eragrostis lehmanniana and secondarily E. curvula) increased the amount of herbaceous foliage available to arthropods, richness of arthropods decreased by an average of 2% and total abundance by an average of 7% for every 10% increase in nonnative-grass dominance. Responses to the plant invasion, however, varied among taxa and functional groups. As dominance of nonnative grasses increased, abundances of most predators and specialist herbivores decreased, whereas abundances of most generalist herbivores were lowest at intermediate points of the invasion gradient. The changes we observed in the arthropod community have potential to alter broad-scale ecological processes, including energy flow and nutrient cycling, and to reduce food resources for insectivores, which can have adverse, cascading effects on imperiled grassland ecosystems.