Grasshoppers are major consumers of plant biomass in grassland and shrubland ecosystems. While often considered generalists, grasshopper species have differing habitat preferences and interactions with other consumers in grasslands. There are conflicting accounts of how prairie dog colonies and differences in vegetation impact grasshopper abundance and composition. We conducted a landscape-scale survey of grasshopper communities, plant communities, and prairie dogs in a grassland/shrubland ecosystem in eastern Wyoming. Over the study landscape, spurthroat grasshoppers (Melanoplinae) were associated with lower sagebrush cover and lower cover of C3 perennial graminoids, bandwing grasshoppers (Oedipodinae) were associated with low-lying areas with a high cover of C4 grasses and a low cover of cheatgrass, and slantface grasshoppers (Gomphocerinae) were associated with low vegetation height. Prairie dogs, presumably because of their effects on vegetation, had different impacts on different groups of grasshoppers. Melanoplinae grasshoppers, the Wyoming toothpick grasshopper (Paropomala wyomingensis Thomas), and grasshoppers with early-season phenology were associated with prairie dog colonies. However, because some species of grasshoppers were positively and others negatively associated with prairie dogs, the net effect of prairie dogs on total grasshopper biomass was neutral. Thus, to determine the role of grasshoppers in prairie ecosystems, it will be important to determine whether there is functional equivalence of grasshopper species in consuming plant biomass and as food for vertebrates.
Landscape scale analysis