In some systems, grasshoppers appear to be food limited in most years, whereas in other systems top down forces, for example, predators, are more often implicated in population regulation. Sustainable strategies to manage grasshopper populations through habitat management require knowledge of the forces that regulate grasshopper populations. This experiment was undertaken to determine whether populations of Melanoplus borealis (Fieber), a common pest species in Alaska, are food-limited in Alaska. Cages were set up in a fallow field near Delta Junction, AK, in 3 yr (2007–2009). In 2007 and 2008, fertilizer was added to half the plots to increase primary production, and, in all years, cages within each plot were stocked with 0, 5, 9, or 13 fourth-instar M. borealis (equivalent to 0, 20, 36, or 52 grasshoppers/m2). Grasshoppers in each cage were counted weekly. Near the end of the growing season, surviving female grasshoppers (≈40% of the original number) were collected. Femur length was taken as a measure of adult size, and functional ovarioles were counted as a measure of current fecundity. If the grasshoppers were food limited, we expected to see significant effects of either density or fertilizer on grasshopper survival, size, or fecundity. The fertilizer treatment greatly increased primary production in both years. Neither fertilizer treatment nor grasshopper density had consistent effects on survival, size, or potential fecundity, leading us to conclude that food is seldom limiting to populations in the interior of Alaska at densities <50 m-2.
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