How do nutrients and warming impact on plant communities and their insect herbivores? A 9-year study from a sub-Arctic heath
- 1 Responses of a Scandinavian sub-Arctic dwarf shrub heath community to 9 years of nutrient and temperature treatments were examined. Our objective was to assess the responses of plant and insect herbivore communities to these treatments, and to determine how vegetation responses scale-up to those of a second trophic group.
- 2 There were strong effects of nutrient addition on the above-ground biomass of both dominant (dwarf shrubs) and subordinate (grasses and mosses) plant functional groups, with responses by the latter being of greater magnitude. Responses to temperature were less frequent and of a smaller magnitude.
- 3 There were marked changes in the abundance of insect herbivores in response to the treatments. Changes in the above-ground biomass of subordinate plant species had a greater impact on the composition of the insect herbivore community than the smaller responses of dominant dwarf shrubs. For example, the abundance of a moss-feeding Heteropteran in fertilized plots was as little as 6% that of controls, while Homoptera specializing on grasses were over 400% more abundant. In addition, gramnivorous taxa (the Delphacidae) were present only in those plots that received nutrients.
- 4 Despite some species-specific effects of the perturbations on the quality of dwarf shrub annual shoots (defined as the concentrations of nitrogen and phenolic compounds), little change in leaf herbivory was observed. Insect herbivores removed less than 1% of annual biomass from dominant dwarf shrub species.
- 5 It is proposed that insect community change was driven by subordinate plant groups and not by the dominant dwarf shrub species, suggesting a wider importance of subordinate species for community structure.