UBC Research Data

Data for: Plant and herbivorous insect communities respond in complex ways to rainfall manipulation in an oak savanna grassland Smith, Lauren; Williams, Jennifer



Changes in precipitation due to climate change will have consequences for plant and herbivorous insect communities alike. Multiple hypotheses explain how changes in plant diversity and productivity can lead to changes in herbivore community composition. Yet as rainfall patterns change, the bottom-up effects on the relationships between plant and herbivore communities are less well understood. Using a long-term rainfall manipulation experiment in a remnant patch of Garry oak (<em>Quercus garryana</em>) savanna, we examined how plant diversity and productivity have responded to variation in soil moisture over six years. This highly endangered ecosystem is predicted to experience significantly wetter springs and drier summers by 2080. We also investigated plant-mediated, indirect effects of manipulated rainfall on herbivore diversity and abundance, drawing on multiple hypotheses describing the relationships between plant and herbivore communities. For example, the more individuals hypothesis predicts that increased plant productivity results in increased herbivore abundance which in turn results in increased herbivore diversity. We found that plant productivity was influenced by soil moisture, but the direction and magnitude of the response varied across years, and no support for plant diversity influencing productivity. We also found that the cover and productivity of grasses increased significantly with increasing precipitation. In addition to a significant direct effect on herbivore diversity, soil moisture had a significant indirect negative effect on herbivore abundance, via the negative effect of plant productivity on abundance, contradicting the more individuals hypothesis.</p>

Synthesis: Our results highlight that not only can drought result in significant reductions in plant productivity in this threatened ecosystem, but that these changes will also result in increases in herbivore abundance. In contrast, where soil moisture is higher, grasses will become more dominant resulting in decreased abundance. Ultimately, predicting how this system responds to changes in precipitation will depend on the ability to predict whether growing season soil moisture will be consistently drier or wetter in the future, a significant challenge. Going forward, investigating how variation in precipitation due to climate change affects the links between trophic levels, including how herbivores affect plant communities, remains critical for understanding ecosystem processes and stability.</p>; <b>Methods</b><br />

See the Methods section of the research article for details of data collection and processing methods. </p>; <b>Usage notes</b><br />

See README.md file for data description.</p>

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