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  1. Invertebrate growth rates have been changing in the Anthropocene. We examine rates of seasonal maturation in a grasshopper community that has been declining annually greater than 2% a year over 34 years. As this grassland has experienced a 1°C increase in temperature, higher plant biomass and lower nutrient densities, the community is maturing more slowly. Community maturation had a nutritional component: declining in years/watersheds with lower plant nitrogen. The effects of fire frequency were consistent with effects of plant nitrogen. Principal components analysis also suggests associated changes in species composition—declines in the densities of grass feeders were associated with declines in community maturation rates. We conclude that slowed maturation rates—a trend counteracted by frequent burning—likely contribute to long-term decline of this dominant herbivore. 
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  3. Evidence for global insect declines mounts, increasing our need to understand underlying mechanisms. We test the nutrient dilution (ND) hypothesis—the decreasing concentration of essential dietary minerals with increasing plant productivity—that particularly targets insect herbivores. Nutrient dilution can result from increased plant biomass due to climate or CO2enrichment. Additionally, when considering long-term trends driven by climate, one must account for large-scale oscillations including El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO), North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO), and Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO). We combine long-term datasets of grasshopper abundance, climate, plant biomass, and end-of-season foliar elemental content to examine potential drivers of abundance cycles and trends of this dominant herbivore. Annual grasshopper abundances in 16- and 22-y time series from a Kansas prairie revealed both 5-y cycles and declines of 2.1–2.7%/y. Climate cycle indices of spring ENSO, summer NAO, and winter or spring PDO accounted for 40–54% of the variation in grasshopper abundance, mediated by effects of weather and host plants. Consistent with ND, grass biomass doubled and foliar concentrations of N, P, K, and Na—nutrients which limit grasshopper abundance—declined over the same period. The decline in plant nutrients accounted for 25% of the variation in grasshopper abundance over two decades. Thus a warming, wetter, more CO2-enriched world will likely contribute to declines in insect herbivores by depleting nutrients from their already nutrient-poor diet. Unlike other potential drivers of insect declines—habitat loss, light and chemical pollution—ND may be widespread in remaining natural areas.

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  4. Abstract

    Species interactions are integral to ecological community function, and the structure of species interactions has repercussions for the consequences of species extinctions. Few studies have examined the role of environmental factors in controlling species interaction networks across time.

    We examined variation in plant–grasshopper network structural properties in response to three major grassland drivers: periodic fire, ungulate grazing and climate.

    We sequenced a plant barcoding gene from extracted grasshopper gut contents to characterize diets of 26 grasshopper species. Resulting grasshopper species’ diets were combined with long‐term plant and grasshopper surveys to assemble plant–grasshopper networks across 13–19 years for six watersheds subjected to varying fire and grazing treatments.

    Network modularity, generality and predicted grasshopper community robustness to plant species loss all increased in grazed watersheds. Temperature decreased predicted grasshopper community robustness to plant species loss.

    Grasshopper communities were found to be vulnerable to climatic warming due to host plant loss. However, intermediate disturbance from ungulate grazers may maintain grasshopper diversity and buffer community robustness to species loss. Our results suggest that climate and disturbance shape the structure of ecological interaction networks and thus have many indirect effects on species persistence though direct effects on interaction partners.

    Aplain language summaryis available for this article.

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  5. Abstract

    Recent models suggest that herbivores optimize nutrient intake by selecting patches of low to intermediate vegetation biomass. We assessed the application of this hypothesis to plains bison (Bison bison) in an experimental grassland managed with fire by estimating daily rates of nutrient intake in relation to grass biomass and by measuring patch selection in experimental watersheds in which grass biomass was manipulated by prescribed burning. Digestible crude protein content of grass declined linearly with increasing biomass, and the mean digestible protein content relative to grass biomass was greater in burned watersheds than watersheds not burned that spring (intercept;F1,251 = 50.57,P < 0.0001). Linking these values to published functional response parameters,ad libitumprotein intake, and protein expenditure parameters, Fryxell's (Am. Nat., 1991,138, 478) model predicted that the daily rate of protein intake should be highest when bison feed in grasslands with 400–600 kg/ha. In burned grassland sites, where bison spend most of their time, availability of grass biomass ranged between 40 and 3650 kg/ha, bison selected foraging areas of roughly 690 kg/ha, close to the value for protein intake maximization predicted by the model. The seasonal net protein intake predicted for large grazers in this study suggest feeding in burned grassland can be more beneficial for nutrient uptake relative to unburned grassland as long as grass regrowth is possible. Foraging site selection for grass patches of low to intermediate biomass help explain patterns of uniform space use reported previously for large grazers in fire‐prone systems.

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  6. Abstract

    This study aims to understand how inherent ecological network structures of nestedness and modularity vary over large geographic scales with implications for community stability. Bipartite networks from previous research from 68 locations globally were analyzed. Using a meta‐analysis approach, we examine relationships between the structure of 22 trophic and 46 mutualistic bipartite networks in response to extensive gradients of temperature and precipitation. Network structures varied significantly across temperature gradients. Trophic networks showed decreasing modularity with increasing variation in temperature within years. Nestedness of mutualistic networks decreased with increasing temperature variability between years. Mean annual precipitation and variability of precipitation were not found to have significant influence on the structure of either trophic or mutualistic networks. By examining changes in ecological networks across large‐scale abiotic gradients, this study identifies temperature variability as a potential environmental mediator of community stability. Understanding these relationships contributes to our ability to predict responses of biodiversity to climate change at the community level.

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  7. Abstract

    Human induced climate and land‐use change are severely impacting global biodiversity, but how community composition and richness of multiple taxonomic groups change in response to local drivers and whether these responses are synchronous remains unclear. We used long‐term community‐level data from an experimentally manipulated grassland to assess the relative influence of climate and land use as drivers of community structure of four taxonomic groups: birds, mammals, grasshoppers, and plants. We also quantified the synchrony of responses among taxonomic groups across land‐use gradients and compared climatic drivers of community structure across groups. All four taxonomic groups responded strongly to land use (fire frequency and grazing), while responses to climate variability were more pronounced in grasshoppers and small mammals. Animal groups exhibited asynchronous responses across all land‐use treatments, but plant and animal groups, especially birds, exhibited synchronous responses in composition. Asynchrony was attributed to taxonomic groups responding to different components of climate variability, including both current climate conditions and lagged effects from the previous year. Data‐driven land management strategies are crucial for sustaining native biodiversity in grassland systems, but asynchronous responses of taxonomic groups to climate variability across land‐use gradients highlight a need to incorporate response heterogeneity into management planning.

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