Interactions among elk, aspen, galling sawflies and insectivorous birds


  • Joseph K. Bailey,

  • Thomas G. Whitham

J. K. Bailey and T. G. Whitham, Dept of Biological Sci. & Merriam-Powell Center for Environmental Res., Northern Arizona Univ., Flagstaff, AZ 86011 USA (


Using two years of observational and experimental data, we examined the hypothesis that browsing by elk on aspen indirectly affects the distribution of a leaf-galling sawfly, which in turn affects insect diversity and foraging patterns of insectivorous birds. We found that: i) in an analyses of 33 arthropod species, the presence of sawflies significantly increased arthropod richness and abundance by 2 X and 2.5 X, respectively. ii) browsing by elk reduced sawfly gall abundance such that 90% of the galls were found on unbrowsed aspen ramets. iii) insectivorous birds attacked 60–74% of the galls on unbrowsed shoots compared to 11% on browsed shoots. When leaf-galler abundance was experimentally held constant on browsed and unbrowsed shoots, predation by insectivorous birds did not differ significantly. This result suggests that browsing affects the patterns of avian predation by altering the distribution of a galling insect. These data argue that bottom-up, top-down, and lateral factors can act in concert to affect the distribution of a galler, structure arthropod communities and affect predation by insectivorous birds.