Biomasses of Arthropod Taxa Differentially Increase on Nitrogen-Fertilized Willows and Cottonwoods


  • William D. Wiesenborn

    Corresponding author
    1. U.S. Department of Interior, Bureau of Reclamation, Lower Colorado Regional Office, PO Box 61470, Boulder City, NV 89006, U.S.A.
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I evaluated soil application of nitrogen fertilizer to 1-year-old, flood-irrigated Salix exigua willows and Populus fremontii cottonwoods as a method for increasing arthropod abundances and biomasses (wet masses) available to insectivorous birds. Shrubs and trees, planted near the lower Colorado River in southeast California for wildlife habitat, were fertilized during April 2008. I collected spiders and insects monthly during the following May–August from unfertilized and fertilized plants by fumigating branches with insecticide. Percentages of N in leaves, and to a lesser extent percentages of water in branches, were greater on fertilized plants (averaging 2.5% N of dry mass) compared with unfertilized plants (1.6% N) in both species. Most arthropods collected were predaceous Araneae (44% of abundance, 52% of biomass) followed by phytophagous Homoptera (34%, 11%) and predaceous or phytophagous Heteroptera (10%, 11%). Abundances and biomasses of Araneae, Heteroptera, and all Arthropoda across months did not differ between unfertilized and fertilized plants in either species controlling for masses of sampled branches. In contrast, biomasses of Homoptera, mostly Cicadellidae followed by Aphididae, were 197% greater on fertilized willows and 228% greater on fertilized cottonwoods. Greater biomasses on fertilized plants were consistent across months. Biomasses of homopterans on branches of each species also increased as leaf N-concentrations increased. Applying N-fertilizer to willows and cottonwoods can increase leaf N-contents and abundances and biomasses of Homoptera. Increased homopteran biomass on N-fertilized plants may in turn diversify prey available to insectivorous birds.