Grasshopper diversity and grassland ecosystem functioning

Collaborators: Angela Laws (University of Houston), Michael Strickland (Virginia Tech University), Jayne Jonas (Colorado State University), David Bransen (USDA), Tony Joern (Kansas State University), and Steve Pennings (University of Houston)

Sustainable grazing systems depend upon healthy, functioning rangeland ecosystems. Grasshoppers are an important, native component of these rangeland systems, but they compete with livestock for forage, and are often managed with broad spectrum pesticides that kill insects indiscriminately. Most grasshopper species are not pests and may actually be beneficial; they can increase primary production, nutrient cycling, and influence soil microbial communities. However, the role of grasshopper diversity on rangeland ecosystem processes is unknown, and we do not understand how environmental factors like productivity mediate these responses.

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This summer, we are beginning an experiment that will determine the effect of grasshopper diversity on rangeland ecosystem processes (decomposition, microbial communities, nutrient cycling) at a grassland site and if these effects vary with primary productivity. We will manipulate grasshopper species and functional richness across different levels of plant productivity in 2-year field experiment. Additionally, we will collect data on plant and grasshopper communities across North America that to begin testing hypotheses we have about how the effects of grasshopper diversity may vary with latitude.