, Volume 168, Issue 4, pp 997–1012 | Cite as

The direct and indirect effects of fire on the assembly of insect herbivore communities: examples from the Florida scrub habitat

  • Tania N. KimEmail author
  • Robert D. Holt
Plant-Animal interactions - Original Paper


Disturbance is a major source of spatial and temporal heterogeneity. In fire-maintained systems, disturbance by fire is often used as a management tool to increase biological diversity, restore degraded habitats, and reduce pest outbreaks. Much attention has been given to how plant communities recover from fire, but relatively few studies have examined post-fire responses of higher order species, such as insect herbivores. Because dynamic feedbacks occur between plants and their consumers, which can in turn influence the response of the entire ecosystem, incorporating higher trophic level responses into our understanding of the effects of fire is essential. In this study, we used structural equation modeling (SEM) to tease apart the direct and indirect effects of fire on insect herbivore assemblages found on three common oak species in the Florida scrub (Quercus inopina, Q. chapmanii, and Q. geminata). We investigated how fire affected herbivore abundance, richness, and community composition both directly and indirectly through environmental heterogeneity at different spatial scales (e.g., leaf quality, plant architecture, and habitat structure). We also investigated how seasonality and landscape heterogeneity influenced post-fire responses of insect herbivores and whether fire effects on herbivore assemblages varied among different host plants. Our general findings were that fire effects were (1) largely indirect, mediated through habitat structure (although direct fire effects were observed on Q. inopina herbivores), (2) non-linear through time due to self-thinning processes occurring in the scrub habitat, and (3) varied according to herbivore assemblage as a result of differences in the composition of species in each herbivore community. To the best of our knowledge, this is the first comprehensive study to examine how fire influences the assembly of insect herbivore communities through both direct and indirect pathways and at multiple spatial scales.


Disturbance Structural equation modeling Community assembly Oak-scrub 



We thank RM Holdo, TE Miller, BJ Spiesman, N Underwood, R Brandl, and two anonymous reviewers for helpful comments on earlier drafts of the manuscript. We thank ES Menges, CW Weekley, MA Deyrup, HM Swain, and the staff at the Archbold Biological Station for logistical support. We also thank P Mendez for his help in processing specimens in the laboratory. This research was supported by the University of Florida Foundation and the Frances M Peacock Scholarship (The Garden Club of America and Cornell Lab of Ornithology).

Supplementary material

442_2011_2130_MOESM1_ESM.doc (1.5 mb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOC 1556 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of BiologyUniversity of FloridaGainesvilleUSA
  2. 2.Department of Biological SciencesFlorida State UniversityTallahasseeUSA

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