Insects are important participants in many ecosystem processes, but the effects of anthropogenic and natural disturbances on insect communities have been poorly studied. To describe how disturbances affect insect communities, we addressed two questions: Do insect communities return to a pre-hurricane composition? And how do insect communities change during succession? To answer these questions, we studied insect communities in a chronosequence of two abandoned pastures (5 yr and 32 yr) and a mature forest (>80 yr) that were recently disturbed by two hurricanes (Hurricane Hugo, 1989; Hurricane Georges, 1998). Although insect abundance and richness fluctuated during the study, all sites returned to pre-hurricane (Hurricane Georges) abundance and richness in less than one year. All trophic categories present before Hurricane Georges were present after the hurricane, but richness within categories fluctuated greatly. Insect richness did not increase during succession; the 5 yr site had the highest richness, the >80 yr site had an intermediate richness, and the 32 yr site the lowest. Nevertheless, the species composition of the two forested sites was different in comparison to the 5 yr site. These results suggest that trophic structure varies little in time and space, but the species composition within each trophic category is highly variable.
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Vol. 34 • No. 3