Woody vegetation remnants within pastures influence locust distribution: Testing bottom-up and top-down control

Douglas Lawton, Cathy Waters, Marion Le Gall, Arianne Cease

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Abstract

Agriculture is a major factor in landscape fragmentation, altering nutrient cycling and animal and plant populations through increasing habitat edge density. Most research on insect herbivores in agroecosystems has focused on the top-down effects of predators moving throughout the habitat mosaic. Few studies have focused on the top-down and bottom-up factors modulating the distribution of insect herbivore populations between natural and agricultural patches. For example, despite an understanding that Australian plague locusts (Chortoicetes terminifera) avoid tree patches, the underlying mechanisms remain unknown. Here, we explored how wooded remnants within pastures affect locust density and the potential top-down and bottom-up mechanistic explanations. We tested three hypotheses: 1) grasses near wooded areas are nutritionally suboptimal, 2) predator density is higher near wooded areas, and 3) temperatures are cooler underneath trees. We measured locust density, grass nutrient content, predator abundance, temperature, and ground cover along 50 m transects from wooded areas to open grassy areas. We ran those transects in three fields and had four transects per field. We confirmed locust avoidance for trees at a 20 m periphery, however none of the variables tested independently explained this trend. Grass nutrient content was similar underneath wooded areas and in open patches. Predator abundance did not differ between the two habitats. The ground was warmer under wooded areas than in grassy areas potentially due to woody vegetation negating windchill. Further, we found that locust density was negatively correlated with plant protein content and was highest in areas with approximately 20 % bare ground cover. Both plant protein and ground cover are important for grasshopper performance and reproduction. It is likely a complex interaction between these variables and others that drive the distribution of this species and other insect herbivores in agroecosystems. The small-scale mechanisms driving the response of insect herbivores to landscape changes is critical to understanding and predicting population dynamics at large-scales.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number106931
JournalAgriculture, Ecosystems and Environment
Volume296
DOIs
StatePublished - Jul 1 2020

Keywords

  • Agricultural mosaic
  • Australia
  • Drylands
  • Insect herbivore
  • Population dynamics

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology
  • Animal Science and Zoology
  • Agronomy and Crop Science

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