Testing the Role of Insects in Ecosystem Functioning

  • E. Siemann
  • W. W. Weisser
Part of the Ecological Studies book series (ECOLSTUD, volume 173)


Our knowledge of how herbivores impact ecosystem processes is rudimentary. More is known about how they influence plant diversity and composition than how ecosystem processes depend on herbivores and the changes they cause in plant communities. In particular, there is little theory, and few investigations, that incorporate insect herbivores, plants and ecosystem processes. We present models that make predictions about how herbivore effects on ecosystem processes vary with the diversity and functional types of plants and herbivores. In simple niche models, impacts of generalist herbivores on productivity varied little among ecosystems that differed in plant diversity. However, positive responses of non-host plant species released from competition with host plant species diminished the effects of specialist herbivores on productivity at higher levels of plant diversity. Resource models predicted that plant populations and ecosystem productivity will be more sensitive to belowground herbivory in soil resource-limited ecosystems and to aboveground herbivory in light-limited ecosystems. In the reverse situations, such as root herbivory in light-limited ecosystems, herbivory had little effect. In resource competition models, generalist root herbivory favoured plant species that are better belowground competitors. Generalist aboveground herbivory favoured better light competitors. Regardless of their mode of feeding (belowground vs. aboveground), specialist herbivores that fed on plants that were better light competitors in light-limited systems or on better soil resource competitors in soil resource-limited systems allowed competitors to invade and increased light or soil resource availability,respectively.In systems where both plant species co-existed in the absence of herbivores, specialist herbivores that fed on better light competitors favoured better soil resource competitors, allowing them to lower soil resource concentrations. Those that fed on better soil resource competitors decreased light availability by the same mechanism. Future research should place more emphasis on manipulations of insects and plants in combination and examine ecosystem responses.


Plant Diversity Ecosystem Functioning Soil Resource Ecosystem Productivity Specialist Herbivore 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  • E. Siemann
  • W. W. Weisser

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