Papers in the Biological Sciences


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Published in Am. Nat. (2001) Vol. 158, pp. 17–35. Copyright © 2001 by The University of Chicago


We experimentally separated the effects of two components of plant diversity—plant species richness and plant functional group richness—on insect communities. Plant species richness and plant functional group richness had contrasting effects on insect abundances, a result we attributed to three factors. First, lower insect abundances at higher plant functional group richness were explained by a sampling effect, which was caused by the increasing likelihood that one low-quality group, C4 grasses, would be present and reduce average insect abundances by 25%. Second, plant biomass, which was positively related to plant functional group richness, had a strong, positive effect on insect abundances. Third, a positive effect of plant species richness on insect abundances may have been caused by greater availability of alternate plant resources or greater vegetational structure. In addition, a greater diversity of insect species, whose individual abundances were often unaffected by changes in plant species richness, may have generated higher total community abundances. After controlling for the strong, positive influence of insect abundance on insect diversity through rarefaction, insect species richness increased as plant species richness and plant functional group richness increased. Although these variables did not explain a high proportion of variation individually, plant species richness and plant functional group richness had similar effects on insect diversity and opposing effects on insect abundances, and both factors may explain how the loss of plant diversity influences higher trophic levels.

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