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Ecology of the Shortgrass SteppeA Long-Term Perspective$
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W. K. Lauenroth and I. C. Burke

Print publication date: 2008

Print ISBN-13: 9780195135824

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: November 2020

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780195135824.001.0001

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Insect Populations, Community Interactions, and Ecosystem Processes in the Shortgrass Steppe

Insect Populations, Community Interactions, and Ecosystem Processes in the Shortgrass Steppe

(p.215) 10 Insect Populations, Community Interactions, and Ecosystem Processes in the Shortgrass Steppe
Ecology of the Shortgrass Steppe

Thomas O. Crist

Oxford University Press

Insects are diverse, abundant, and have numerous roles in rangeland ecosystems. More than 1600 species representing 238 families of insects have been recorded in the shortgrass steppe of northeastern Colorado (Kumar et al., 1976). Of this large assemblage, a much smaller subset—perhaps fewer than 50 species—is highly abundant with a large influence on community and ecosystem processes (Lauenroth and Milchunas, 1992). Even within abundant insect groups, such as grasshoppers, some species have far greater effects than others as herbivores (Capinera, 1987). In this chapter I consider a small number of insect groups that have various in) uences in shortgrass steppe ecosystems (Table 10.1). I focus on three insect taxa—grasshoppers, beetles, and ants—that are widespread, abundant, and ecologically important in semiarid environments. I also draw attention to neglected groups, such as termites and spiders, for their potentially important roles in the shortgrass steppe. My primary objective is to emphasize the linkages among insect populations, community interactions, and ecosystem function. From this approach stems several related issues: how population distributions affect community interactions, how population abundance affects the processing and redistribution of energy and nutrients in ecosystems, and how abundance and species diversity are important to the functional roles of species in ecosystems. I skirt issues of population regulation in insects, which are reviewed elsewhere (Cappuccino and Price, 1995), and instead consider how temporal and spatial patterns in insect populations relate to community and ecosystem processes. Understanding relationships among populations, communities, and ecosystems requires approaches that link patterns and processes across scales. Much of what is known about the roles of insects in the shortgrass steppe is based on studies conducted at relatively fine scales. To link insect population studies to community and ecosystem processes, however, I suggest that insect populations should also be studied across broader scales that encompass topographic variation. The rolling topography in the shortgrass steppe produces a gradient in soil texture, water availability, and nutrient retention from uplands to lowlands (Clark and Woodmansee, 1992; Schimel et al., 1985). Plant community structure also varies with topography in spatially repeating patterns across the landscape (Milchunas et al., 1989).

Keywords:   Ant nests, Beetles, Carabid beetles, Darkling beetles, Grasshoppers, Harvester ants, Patch dynamics, Robber flies, Tenebrionids, White grubs

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