Abiotic factors and plant biomass, not plant diversity, strongly shape grassland arthropods under drought conditions

Ecology. 2020 Jun;101(6):e03033. doi: 10.1002/ecy.3033. Epub 2020 Apr 30.


Arthropod abundance and diversity often track plant biomass and diversity at the local scale. However, under altered precipitation regimes and anthropogenic disturbances, plant-arthropod relationships are expected to be increasingly controlled by abiotic, rather than biotic, factors. We used an experimental precipitation gradient combined with human management in a temperate mixed-grass prairie to examine (1) how two drivers, altered precipitation and biomass removal, can synergistically affect abiotic factors and plant communities and (2) how these effects can cascade upward, impacting the arthropod food web. Both drought and hay harvest increased soil surface temperature, and drought decreased soil moisture. Arthropod abundance decreased with low soil moisture and, contrary to our predictions, decreased with increased plant biomass. Arthropod diversity increased with soil moisture, decreased with high surface temperatures, and tracked arthropod abundance but was unaffected by plant diversity or quality. Our experiment demonstrates that arthropod abundance is directly constrained by abiotic factors and plant biomass, in turn constraining local arthropod diversity. If robust, this result suggests climate change in the southern Great Plains may directly reduce arthropod diversity.

Keywords: climate change; drought; hay harvest; invertebrate; prairie; precipitation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Arthropods*
  • Biodiversity
  • Biomass
  • Droughts
  • Grassland
  • Humans
  • Plants