Abstract

Responses of plants to grazing are better understood, and more predictable, than those of consumers in North American grasslands. In 2003, we began a large-scale, replicated experiment that examined the effects of grazing on three important arthropod groups—beetles, spiders, and grasshoppers—in shortgrass steppe of north-central Colorado. We investigated whether modifications of the intensity and seasonality of livestock grazing alter the structure and diversity of macroarthropod communities compared with traditional grazing practices. Treatments represented a gradient of grazing intensity by cattle and native herbivores: long-term grazing exclosures; moderate summer grazing (the traditional regime); intensive spring grazing; intensive summer grazing; and moderately summer-grazed pastures also inhabited by black-tailed prairie dogs (Cynomys ludovicianus Ord). Beetles and spiders were the most common groups captured, comprising 60% and 21%, respectively, of 4,378 total pitfall captures. Grasshopper counts were generally low, with 3,799 individuals observed and densities <4 m−2. Two years after treatments were applied, vegetation structure differed among grazing treatments, responding not only to long-term grazing conditions, but also to the short-term, more-intensive grazing manipulations. In response, arthropods were, in general, relatively insensitive to these grazing-induced structural changes. However, species-level analyses of one group (Tenebrionidae) revealed both positive and negative effects of grazing treatments on beetle richness and activity-density. Importantly, these responses to grazing were more pronounced in a year when spring-summer rainfall was low, suggesting that both grazing and precipitation—which together may create the greatest heterogeneity in vegetation structure—are drivers of consumer responses in this system.

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