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Insect herbivory in an experimental agroecosystem: the relative importance of habitat area, fragmentation, and the matrix


  • Kyle J. Haynes,

  • Thomas O. Crist

K. J. Haynes (, Dept of Biology, Univ. of Louisiana, PO Box 42451, Lafayette, LA 70504, USA. – T. O. Crist, Dept of Zoology, Miami Univ., Oxford, OH 45056, USA.


Habitat area, fragmentation, and the surrounding matrix influence levels of herbivory in various ecosystems, but the relative importance of these effects has rarely been assessed. We compared levels of herbivory and densities of dominant arthropod herbivores (the hemipteran insects Agallia constricta, Empoasca fabae, Therioaphis trifolii, Lygus lineolaris and Halticus bractatus) among experimental plots that varied in the area and fragmentation of clover habitat and the composition of the matrix (bare ground or grass) surrounding clover habitat. To assess levels of herbivory, we compared clover biomass within herbivore exclosures to the biomass accessible to herbivores. The area and fragmentation of clover habitat, as well as matrix composition, significantly influenced the collective densities of herbivores, although each species exhibited unique responses to habitat structure. Herbivory was strongest in plots with large (64 m2) as compared to small (16 m2) amounts of clover habitat. The difference in clover biomass between the inside and outside of exclosures increased significantly with increasing density of Empoasca fabae but was unrelated to the densities of the other herbivores, suggesting that Empoasca fabae was an exceptionally important herbivore in this system. This study supports the view that herbivore densities and herbivory generally increase with increasing area of plant monocultures, but emphasizes that levels of herbivory may be driven primarily by one or a few key herbivore species.