, Volume 9, Issue 4, pp 261-280

Sap-feeding Insect Communities as Indicators of Habitat Fragmentation and Nutrient Subsidies

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Upland salt marsh vegetation is particularly prone to habitat fragmentation and nutrient run-off due to coastal development and nearby agriculture. By examining how communities of sap-feeding insects respond to natural variation in plant-patch size and an experimental nutrient addition we explored how species with particular life history traits (e.g. dispersal ability and over-wintering style) might be used to indicate the effects of habitat fragmentation (patch area) and nitrogen subsidies on food webs. Sap-feeders that were superior dispersers or over-wintered in concealed microhabitats persisted well in small patch sizes. In contrast, species that were both immobile and over-wintered in exposed stages were more sensitive to decreasing patch size. Furthermore, mobile sap-feeders colonized and established populations on nitrogen-subsidized patches more rapidly than less mobile taxa. Thus, patterns in community composition (mobile vs. sedentary sap-feeders) can be used as key indicators of both habitat fragmentation and allochthanous nitrogen subsidies. Both patch size and nutrient subsidy altered trophic structure with a higher predator to herbivore ratio occurring in small compared to large patches and in control compared to nitrogen-subsidized habitats where herbivore outbreaks occurred. Our data suggest that conserving large habitat patches and minimizing nitrogen input is critical for maintaining sap-feeder diversity and preserving food-web structure.