Herbivores, saprovores and natural enemies respond differently to within-field plant characteristics of wheat fields

Abstract

Understanding ecosystem functioning in a farmland context by considering the variety of ecological strategies employed by arthropods is a core challenge in ecology and conservation science. We adopted a functional approach in an assessment of the relationship between three functional plant groups (grasses, broad-leaves and legumes) and the arthropod community in winter wheat fields in a Mediterranean dryland context. We sampled the arthropod community as thoroughly as possible with a combination of suction catching and flight-interception trapping. All specimens were identified to the appropriate taxonomic level (family, genus or species) and classified according to their form of feeding: chewing-herbivores, sucking-herbivores, flower-consumers, omnivores, saprovores, parasitoids or predators. We found, a richer plant community favoured a greater diversity of herbivores and, in turn, a richness of herbivores and saprovores enhanced the communities of their natural enemies, which supports the classical trophic structure hypothesis. Grass cover had a positive effect on sucking-herbivores, saprovores and their natural enemies and is probably due to grasses’ ability to provide, either directly or indirectly, alternative resources or simply by offering better environmental conditions. By including legumes in agroecosystems we can improve the conservation of beneficial arthropods like predators or parasitoids, and enhance the provision of ecosystem services such as natural pest control.

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Acknowledgments

We are indebted to Lluís Tarés and Joan Ramon Salla for their willingness to participate in this project and for generously allowing us to work in their fields. We are grateful to Amador Viñolas (Coleoptera), Miguel Carles-Tolrà (Diptera) and Marcos Roca-Cusachs (Hemiptera) for the huge task of identifying specimens and for offering information about arthropod feeding habits, which was of great help when deciding upon the most appropriate feeding categories. We would also like to thank Albert Ferré and Arnau Mercadé (Cartography group, Plant Biology Department, University of Barcelona) for their technical assistance with the GIS analyses in the margin assessment. The authors would like to thank the two anonymous referees whose suggestions significantly contributed to improve our manuscript. This research represents part of the PhD project by the leading author and was funded by the FI Fellowship (Agència de Gestió d’Ajuts Universitaris i de Recerca, Generalitat de Catalunya) and the Spanish Ministry of Economy and Competitiveness (CGL2006-c03-01/BOS; CGL2009-13497-c02-01; CGL2012-39442).

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Correspondence to Berta Caballero-López.

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Caballero-López, B., Blanco-Moreno, J.M., Pujade-Villar, J. et al. Herbivores, saprovores and natural enemies respond differently to within-field plant characteristics of wheat fields. J Insect Conserv 20, 467–476 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10841-016-9879-5

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Keywords

  • Functional approach
  • Plant–arthropod interaction
  • Biological control
  • Legumes
  • Ecosystem services
  • Insect functional traits