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Data from: Land-use legacies and present fire regimes interact to mediate herbivory by altering the neighboring plant community


Hahn, Philip G.; Orrock, John L. (2015), Data from: Land-use legacies and present fire regimes interact to mediate herbivory by altering the neighboring plant community, Dryad, Dataset,


Past and present human activities, such as historic agriculture and fire suppression, are widespread and can create depauperate plant communities. Although many studies show that herbivory on focal plants depends on the density of herbivores or the composition of the surrounding plant community, it is unclear whether anthropogenic changes to plant communities alter herbivory. We tested the hypothesis that human activities that alter the plant community lead to subsequent changes in herbivory. At 20 sites distributed across 80 300 hectares, we conducted a field experiment that manipulated insect herbivore access (full exclosures and pseudo-exclosures) to four focal plant species in longleaf pine woodlands with different land-use histories (post-agricultural sites or non-agricultural sites) and degrees of fire frequency (frequent and infrequent). Plant cover, particularly herbaceous cover, was lower in post-agricultural and fire suppressed woodlands. Density of the dominant insect herbivore at our site (grasshoppers) was positively related to plant cover. Herbivore access reduced biomass of the palatable forb Solidago odora in frequently burned post-agricultural sites and in infrequently burned non-agricultural woodlands and increased mortality of another forb (Pityopsis graminifolia), but did not affect two other less palatable species (Schizachyrium scoparium and Tephrosia virginiana). Herbivory on S. odora exhibited a hump-shaped response to plant cover, with low herbivory at low and high levels of plant cover. Herbivore density had a weak negative effect on herbivory. These findings suggest that changes in plant cover related to past and present human activities can modify damage rates on focal S. odora plants by altering grasshopper foraging behavior rather than by altering local grasshopper density. The resulting changes in herbivory may have the potential to limit natural recovery or restoration efforts by reducing the establishment or performance of palatable plant species.

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Southeastern USA coastal plains