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Positive interactions between large herbivores and grasshoppers, and their consequences for grassland plant diversity

Authors

  • Zhiwei Zhong,

    1. Institute of Grassland Science, Northeast Normal University, and Key Laboratory of Vegetation Ecology, Ministry of Education, Changchun, Jilin 130024 China
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  • Deli Wang,

    Corresponding author
    1. Institute of Grassland Science, Northeast Normal University, and Key Laboratory of Vegetation Ecology, Ministry of Education, Changchun, Jilin 130024 China
    2. School of Forestry and Environmental Studies and Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut 06511 USA
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  • Hui Zhu,

    1. Institute of Grassland Science, Northeast Normal University, and Key Laboratory of Vegetation Ecology, Ministry of Education, Changchun, Jilin 130024 China
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  • Ling Wang,

    1. Institute of Grassland Science, Northeast Normal University, and Key Laboratory of Vegetation Ecology, Ministry of Education, Changchun, Jilin 130024 China
    2. Life Sciences Complex, Syracuse University, Syracuse, New York 13244-1220 USA
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  • Chao Feng,

    1. Institute of Grassland Science, Northeast Normal University, and Key Laboratory of Vegetation Ecology, Ministry of Education, Changchun, Jilin 130024 China
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  • Zhongnan Wang

    1. Institute of Grassland Science, Northeast Normal University, and Key Laboratory of Vegetation Ecology, Ministry of Education, Changchun, Jilin 130024 China
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  • Corresponding Editor: T. J. Valone.

Abstract

Although the influence of positive interactions on plant and sessile communities has been well documented, surprisingly little is known about their role in structuring terrestrial animal communities. We evaluated beneficial interactions between two distantly related herbivore taxa, large vertebrate grazers (sheep) and smaller insect grazers (grasshoppers), using a set of field experiments in eastern Eurasian steppe of China. Grazing by large herbivores caused significantly higher grasshopper density, and this pattern persisted until the end of the experiment. Grasshoppers, in turn, increased the foraging time of larger herbivores, but such response occurred only during the peak of growing season (August). These reciprocal interactions were driven by differential herbivore foraging preferences for plant resources; namely, large herbivores preferred Artemisia forbs, whereas grasshoppers preferred Leymus grass. The enhancement of grasshopper density in areas grazed by large herbivores likely resulted from the selective consumption of Artemisia forbs by vertebrate grazers, which may potentially improve the host finding of grasshoppers. Likewise, grasshoppers appeared to benefit large herbivores by decreasing the cover and density of the dominant grass Leymus chinensis, which hampers large herbivores' access to palatable forbs. Moreover, we found that large herbivores grazing alone may significantly decrease plant diversity, yet grasshoppers appeared to mediate such negative effects when they grazed with large herbivores. Our results suggest that the positive, reciprocal interactions in terrestrial herbivore communities may be more prevalent and complex than previously thought.

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