Landscape context outweighs local habitat quality in its effects on herbivore dispersal and distribution

Oecologia. 2007 Mar;151(3):431-41. doi: 10.1007/s00442-006-0600-3. Epub 2006 Nov 21.


Past studies with spatially structured herbivore populations have emphasized the primacy of intrinsic factors (e.g., patch quality), patch geometry (e.g., patch size and isolation), and more recently landscape context (e.g., matrix composition) in affecting local population abundance and dispersal rate. However, few studies have examined the relative importance of each factor, or how they might interact to affect herbivore abundance or dispersal. Here, we performed a factorial field experiment to examine the independent and interactive effects of patch quality (plant biomass, leaf protein, leaf phenolics) and matrix composition [mudflat or non-host grass (Bromus inermis)] on planthopper (Prokelisia crocea) emigration from host-plant patches (prairie cordgrass, Spartina pectinata). In addition, a field survey was conducted to examine the relative importance of patch quality, geography, and matrix composition on planthopper occupancy and density. In the experiment, we found that rates of emigration from low and intermediate quality patches were, on average, 21% percent higher for patches embedded in brome than mudflat. In contrast, the emigration rate was unaffected by matrix composition in nutrient-rich patches. Within matrix types, plant quality had little effect on emigration. In the survey, planthopper density and the patch occupancy rate of planthoppers increased nonadditively with increasing patch size and the percentage of the surrounding matrix composed of mudflat. This study suggests that landscape-level factors, such as the matrix, may be more important than factors intrinsic to the patches.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Analysis of Variance
  • Animals
  • Demography*
  • Ecosystem*
  • Hemiptera / physiology*
  • Motor Activity / physiology*
  • North Dakota
  • Phenols / analysis
  • Plant Leaves / chemistry
  • Poaceae
  • Population Dynamics
  • Proteins / analysis


  • Phenols
  • Proteins