Long-term disturbance from fire and bison grazing modulates grasshopper species assemblages (Orthoptera) in tallgrass prairie

TitleLong-term disturbance from fire and bison grazing modulates grasshopper species assemblages (Orthoptera) in tallgrass prairie
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2005
AuthorsJoern, A
Pagination861 -873
Accession NumberKNZ00940

Understanding determinants of local species diversity remains central to developing plans to preserve biodiversity. In the continental United States, climate, grazing by large mammals, fire, and topography are important ecosystem drivers that structure North American tallgrass prairie, with major impacts on plant community composition and vegetation structure. Frequency of fire and grazing by bison (Bos bison), through effects on plant community composition and altered spatial and structural heterogeneity of vegetation in tallgrass prairie, may act as bottom-up processes that modulate insect community species richness. As previously seen for plant species richness, I hypothesized that grazing had more impact than fire frequency in determining species richness of insect herbivore communities. I examined this prediction with grasshoppers at Konza Prairie, a representative tallgrass prairie site in which fire frequency and bison grazing are manipulated over long terms with landscape-level treatments.

Topographic position (upland vs. lowland) and fire frequency (1-, 2-, 4-year intervals, and unburned) did not significantly influence grasshopper species richness or indices of diversity, while grazing had significant effects. On average, I found ∼45% more grasshopper species and significantly increased values of Shannon H′ diversity at sites with bison grazing. Species abundances were more equally distributed (Shannon's Evenness Index) in grazed sites as well. No significant interactions among burning and grazing treatments explained variation in grasshopper species diversity. Grasshopper species richness responded positively to increased heterogeneity in vegetation structure and plant species richness, and negatively to average canopy height and total grass biomass. Variation in forb biomass did not influence grasshopper species richness. A significant positive relationship between grasshopper species richness and overall grasshopper density was observed. Species richness increased marginally as watershed area of treatments in grazed areas increased, but not in ungrazed areas. Disturbance from ecosystem drivers operating at watershed spatial scales exhibits strong effects on local arthropod species diversity, acting indirectly by mediating changes in the spatial heterogeneity of local vegetation structure and plant species diversity.