Plant species loss decreases arthropod diversity and shifts trophic structure

Ecol Lett. 2009 Oct;12(10):1029-39. doi: 10.1111/j.1461-0248.2009.01356.x. Epub 2009 Aug 21.


Plant diversity is predicted to be positively linked to the diversity of herbivores and predators in a foodweb. Yet, the relationship between plant and animal diversity is explained by a variety of competing hypotheses, with mixed empirical results for each hypothesis. We sampled arthropods for over a decade in an experiment that manipulated the number of grassland plant species. We found that herbivore and predator species richness were strongly, positively related to plant species richness, and that these relationships were caused by different mechanisms at herbivore and predator trophic levels. Even more dramatic was the threefold increase, from low- to high-plant species richness, in abundances of predatory and parasitoid arthropods relative to their herbivorous prey. Our results demonstrate that, over the long term, the loss of plant species propagates through food webs, greatly decreasing arthropod species richness, shifting a predator-dominated trophic structure to being herbivore dominated, and likely impacting ecosystem functioning and services.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Arthropods / physiology*
  • Biodiversity*
  • Extinction, Biological*
  • Food Chain*
  • Plant Development
  • Plants*
  • Population Density