The importance of sward architectural complexity in structuring predatory and phytophagous invertebrate assemblages


Ben Woodcock, Centre for Agri-Environmental Research, Department of Agriculture, University of Reading, Reading, RG6 6AR, UK. E-mail:


Abstract 1. Although the importance of plant community assemblages in structuring invertebrate assemblages is well known, the role that architectural complexity plays is less well understood. In particular, direct empirical data for a range of invertebrate taxa showing how functional groups respond to plant architecture is largely absent from the literature.

2. The significance of sward architectural complexity in determining the species richness of predatory and phytophagous functional groups of spiders, beetles, and true bugs, sampled from 135 field margin plots over 2 years was tested. The present study compares the relative importance of sward architectural complexity to that of plant community assemblage.

3. Sward architectural complexity was found to be a determinant of species richness for all phytophagous and predatory functional groups. When individual species responses were investigated, 62.5% of the spider and beetle species, and 50.0% of the true bugs responded to sward architectural complexity.

4. Interactions between sward architectural complexity and plant community assemblage indicate that the number of invertebrate species supported by the plant community alone could be increased by modification of sward architecture. Management practices could therefore play a key role in diversifying the architectural structure of existing floral assemblages for the benefit of invertebrate assemblages.

5. The contrasting effects of sward architecture on invertebrate functional groups characterised by either direct (phytophagous species) or indirect (predatory species) dependence on plant communities is discussed. It is suggested that for phytophagous taxa, plant community assemblage alone is likely to be insufficient to ensure successful species colonisation or persistence without appropriate development of sward architecture.