The complex interplay between grasshoppers, weather conditions, and plants that cause fluctuations in grasshopper populations remains poorly understood, and little is known about the ecological processes that generate grasshopper outbreaks. Grasshopper populations respond to interacting extrinsic and intrinsic factors, with yearly and decadal weather patterns and the timing of precipitation all potentially important. The effects of initial and increasing grasshopper densities on grasshopper survival and reproductive correlates were examined at a northern mixed-grass prairie site through manipulations of grasshopper densities inside 10-m2 cages. High-quality grass growth occurred after a 9.1-cm mid-August rain. Reduced proportional survival was apparent in the two higher density treatments before the rain, indicative of food-limited density-dependent mortality. However, the large late summer rainfall event mediated the effects of exploitative competition on demographic characteristics because of the high-quality vegetation growth. This led to weaker effects of food limitation on survival and reproduction at the end of the experiment. The results indicate a direct link between weather variation, resource quality and grasshopper population dynamics led to a severe grasshopper outbreak and show that infrequent large precipitation events can have significant effects on population dynamics. Additional research is needed to examine the importance of infrequent large precipitation events on grasshopper population dynamics in grassland ecosystems.
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