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Ecology. 2010 Apr;91(4):1083-91.

Plant species richness in montane grasslands affects the fitness of a generalist grasshopper species.

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Institute of Ecology, University of Jena, Dornburgerstrasse 159, 07743 Jena, Germany.


Theory predicts negative effects of increasing plant diversity on the abundance of specialist insect herbivores, but little is known about how plant diversity affects the performance and abundance of generalist insect herbivores. We studied oviposition rates and offspring numbers in females of the generalist grasshopper Chorthippus parallelus that were collected in 15 montane grasslands in 2005 and 2007 along a gradient of plant species richness in central Germany. In addition to plant species richness, we determined evenness and plant community composition in the grasslands and measured aboveground plant biomass and other habitat variables such as leaf area index, vegetation height, and solar radiation. There was substantial variation among sites in grasshopper fecundity and the number of nymphs that hatched from the egg pods. Both fitness measures were positively influenced by plant species richness at the sites, while female fitness did not correlate with any of the other habitat parameters. Abundance of C. parallelus in the grasslands was positively correlated with plant species richness, plant community composition, and incident solar radiation of the sites. There were no phenological differences between grasshoppers from the different study sites. Our results suggest that decreasing biodiversity threatens the persistence not only of specialist, but also of generalist insect herbivores via a variety of mechanisms including a decrease in diversity of the generalists' food plants.

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