Biological Invasions

, Volume 12, Issue 10, pp 3449–3463 | Cite as

Insect assemblages change along a gradient of invasion by a nonnative grass

  • Andrea R. LittEmail author
  • Robert J. Steidl
Original Paper


Because invasions by nonnative plants alter the structure and composition of native plant communities, invasions can alter the function of ecosystems for animals that depend on plants for food and habitat. We quantified effects of an invasion by a nonnative grass on the insect community in grasslands of southeastern Arizona. We sampled insects on 54 1-ha plots established across a gradient of invasion by Lehmann lovegrass (Eragrostis lehmanniana Nees), a perennial species native to southern Africa. Between 2000 and 2004, we captured 94,209 insects representing 13 orders, 91 families, and 698 morphospecies during 2,997 trap nights. Richness of families, richness of morphospecies, and overall abundance of insects decreased as dominance of nonnative grass increased. With every 100 g/m2 increase in biomass of nonnative grass, the average number of insect families decreased by 5%, morphospecies decreased by 6%, and overall abundance decreased by 14%. In areas dominated by nonnative grass, 2 of 8 orders and 6 of 27 families of insects were present less frequently and one family was present more frequently; 5 of 8 orders and 6 of 27 families of insects were less abundant and 3 families were more abundant than in areas dominated by native grasses. As a result, this plant invasion altered the structure of the insect community, which has consequences for animals at higher trophic levels and for ecosystem processes, including decomposition and pollination. Because complete eradication of nonnative plants might be possible only rarely, maintaining stands of native vegetation in invaded areas may be an important practical strategy to foster persistence of animals in grasslands invaded by nonnative plants.


Eragrostis lehmanniana Grasslands Invertebrates Lehmann lovegrass Nonnative plants Phytophagous insects 



We are grateful to K. Franklin, W. Moore, and C. Olson for their assistance with identifying insects, E. Geiger for providing vegetation data and other valuable assistance, and S. Stone and G. McPherson for support throughout this entire project. Our work was supported by The Department of Defense Legacy Resource Management Program (Project 03-102). We appreciate the constructive suggestions offered by A. E. Arnold and by anonymous reviewers.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Natural Resources and the EnvironmentUniversity of ArizonaTucsonUSA
  2. 2.Caesar Kleberg Wildlife Research InstituteTexas A&M University, KingsvilleKingsvilleUSA

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