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Elevated air temperature alters an old-field insect community in a multifactor climate change experiment


Ray S. Williams, tel. +1 828 262 6511, fax +1 828 262 2127, e-mail:


To address how multiple, interacting climate drivers may affect plant–insect community associations, we sampled insects that naturally colonized a constructed old-field plant community grown for over 2 years under simultaneous CO2, temperature, and water manipulation. Insects were sampled using a combination of sticky traps and vacuum sampling, identified to morphospecies and the insect community with respect to abundance, richness, and evenness quantified. Individuals were assigned to four broad feeding guilds in order to examine potential trophic level effects. Although there were occasional effects of CO2 and water treatment, the effects of warming on the insect community were large and consistent. Warming significantly increased Order Thysanoptera abundance and reduced overall morphospecies richness and evenness. Nonmetric multidimensional scaling found that only temperature affected insect community composition, while a Sørensen similarity index showed less correspondence in the insect community between temperature treatments compared with CO2 or soil water treatments. Within the herbivore guild, elevated temperature significantly reduced richness and evenness. Corresponding reductions of diversity measures at higher trophic levels (i.e. parasitoids), along with the finding that herbivore richness was a significant predictor of parasitoid richness, suggest trophic-level effects within the insect community. When the most abundant species were considered in temperature treatments, a small number of species increased in abundance at elevated temperature, while others declined compared with ambient temperature. Effects of temperature in the dominant insects demonstrated that treatment effects were limited to a relatively small number of morphospecies. Observed effects of elevated CO2 concentration on whole-community foliar N concentration did not result in any effect on herbivores, which are probably the most susceptible guild to changes in plant nutritional quality. These results demonstrate that climatic warming may alter certain insect communities via effects on insect species most responsive to a higher temperature, contributing to a change in community structure.

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