Asynchrony, fragmentation, and scale determine benefits of landscape heterogeneity to mobile herbivores

Publication type: 


Kate R. Searle, N. T. Hobbs, Stefan T. Jaronski

Bibliography Partner: 






Oecologia (2010) 163:815–824 DOI 10.1007/s00442-010-1610-8

Data description: 

Mesocosm design, fractional factorial experiment with a completely randomized design


Consumer–resource dynamics, Habitat fragmentation, Phenology, Resource heterogeneity, Resource tracking


Understanding the ways that resource heterogeneity shapes the performance of individuals and the dynamics of populations offers a central challenge in contemporary ecology. Emerging evidence shows that herbivores track heterogeneity in nutritional quality of vegetation by responding to phenological differences in plants, differences that result from spatial and temporal variation in conditions favoring plant growth. Theory predicts that when spatial variation in temperature, nutrients, or moisture results in spatially asynchronous pulses of plant growth, herbivores are able to prolong the period during which they have access to forage of peak nutritional value. Although this idea has substantial support from observational and modeling studies, it has not been examined experimentally. We hypothesized that access to asynchronous resources enhances nutritional status and growth of herbivores and that the magnitude of this effect depends on the scale of access relative to the grain of resources. We tested these hypotheses in mesocosm experiment using the migratory grasshopper, Melanoplus sanguinipes, feeding on young wheat and protein-rich bran as a model system. We demonstrated access to asynchronous pulses in resources enhanced the efficiency of use of high quality resource use and increased growth of individuals by 13%. Disruption of this mechanism when landscapes were fragmented lowered efficiency of resource use and caused growth of individuals to decline by 15%. However, the strength of the effects of fragmentation on herbivore performance depended on the spatial extent of fragmentation relative to the spatial and temporal grain of resource emergence. Our findings add experimental support to modeling and observational studies that have linked herbivore performance to spatial and temporal variation in plant phenology. We also offer evidence that fragmentation can impair herbivore performance, even when the total amount and quality of resources on landscapes remains unchanged.