Skip to main content
ARS Home » Plains Area » Sidney, Montana » Northern Plains Agricultural Research Laboratory » Pest Management Research » Research » Publications at this Location » Publication #333991

Research Project: Ecology and Management of Grasshoppers and Other Rangeland and Crop Insects in the Great Plains

Location: Pest Management Research

Title: Herbivore species identity and composition affect soil enzymatic activity through altered plant composition in a coastal tallgrass prairie

item PRATHER, CHELSE - University Of Dayton
item STRICKLAND, MICHAEL - Virginia Tech
item LAWS, ANGELA - University Of Houston
item Branson, David - Dave

Submitted to: Soil Biology and Biochemistry
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 5/16/2017
Publication Date: 5/30/2017
Publication URL:
Citation: Prather, C.M., Strickland, M.S., Laws, A.N., Branson, D.H. 2017. Herbivore species identity and composition affect soil enzymatic activity through altered plant composition in a coastal tallgrass prairie. Soil Biology and Biochemistry. 112:277-280. doi:10.1016/j.soilbio.2017.05.013.

Interpretive Summary: As part of a larger study looking at the effects of grasshopper communities on rangeland production at sites in Montana, Kansas and Texas, we examined how community composition of common rangeland grasshoppers affects microbial enzyme activity. Our study is one of the first to demonstrate that herbivore species identity and community composition can affect microbial enzyme activity in soil. These results suggest a need for a better understanding of how the species mix of plant feeding insects affects soil microbial communities and plant production. It highlights that change in the community of aboveground insects can induce a cascade of effects which influence the function of belowground communities. Understanding how grasshopper species diversity affects plant production and belowground processes, will allow managers to more proactively determine when grasshopper control is warranted.

Technical Abstract: Although single species of herbivores are known to affect soil microbial communities, the effects of herbivore species identity and functional composition on soil microbes is unknown. We tested the effects of single species of orthopterans and multiple species combinations on soil enzymatic activity with an enclosure experiment in a coastal tallgrass prairie. We found that species effects on soil enzymatic activity were non-additive: one particular mixed feeding orthopteran species (M. femurrubrum) led to a 65% increase in BG enzyme activity and a 35% increase in total hydrolytic enzyme activity, whereas combinations containing this species led to little to no effects. These results suggest that herbivore species or combinations of species that have strong effects on plant functional composition may also have strong effects on soil enzymatic functioning.