We tested whether grasshoppers in experimental field environments, i.e. cages (40×40 cm) placed on existing old field vegetation, (1) were limited in density by plant abundance and/or nitrogen content, (2) exhibited interspecific competition, and (3) altered the relative abundance of different plant species. We examined interactions among a pair of early season grasshopper species (May-June; Arphia conspersa and Pardalophora apiculata) and a late season pair (July-August; Melanoplus femur-rubrum and Melanoplus bivittatus). Each grasshopper species was placed in cages by itself and with another grasshopper species. Grasshoppers generally survived at higher density in fertilized cages and they reduced plant abundance relative to empty cages, suggesting that grasshoppers may be food limited at these densities. In unfertilized plots, early season grasshoppers preferred grasses (Schizachyrium scoparium and Poa pratensis) and favored the growth of forbs (especially Solidago spp.). However, late in summer, Melanoplus spp. preferred Solidago spp. and favored the growth of grasses. The pattern of grasshopper survivorship and plant reduction within these experimental environments provide preliminary support for some of the predictions of resource competition theory. Grasshoppers exhibited interspecific competition only if they significantly reduced plant biomass. If two species competed, a grasshopper species was eliminated only if the superior competitor, when living by itself, could reduce plant biomass to a significantly lower level than the inferior competitor. Competitors persisted only if they did not differ in their ability to reduce plant biomass or reduced the abundance of different plant species.
- Food limitation
- Indirect mutualism
- Interspecific competition
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics