Increased primary production shifts the structure and composition of a terrestrial arthropod community

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Abstract

Numerous studies have examined relationships between primary production and biodiversity at higher trophic levels. However, altered production in plant communities is often tightly linked with concomitant shifts in diversity and composition, and most studies have not disentangled the direct effects of production on consumers. Furthermore, when studies do examine the effects of plant production on animals in terrestrial systems, they are primarily confined to a subset of taxonomic or functional groups instead of investigating the responses of the entire community. Using natural monocultures of the salt marsh cordgrass Spartina alterniflora, we were able to examine the impacts of increased plant production, independent of changes in plant composition and/or diversity, on the trophic structure, composition, and diversity of the entire arthropod community. If arthropod species richness increased with greater plant production, we predicted that it would be driven by: (1) an increase in the number of rare species, and/or (2) an increase in arthropod abundance. Our results largely supported our predictions: species richness of herbivores, detritivores, predators, and parasitoids increased monotonically with increasing levels of plant production, and the diversity of rare species also increased with plant production. However, rare species that accounted for this difference were predators, parasitoids, and detritivores, not herbivores. Herbivore species richness could be simply explained by the relationship between abundance and diversity. Using nonmetric multidimensional scaling (NMDS) and analysis of similarity (ANOSIM), we also found significant changes in arthropod species composition with increasing levels of production. Our findings have important implications in the intertidal salt marsh, where human activities have increased nitrogen runoff into the marsh, and demonstrate that such nitrogen inputs cascade to affect community structure, diversity, and abundance in higher trophic levels.

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