Large mammal grazing is considered an important biological process that structures many grassland plant communities. While herbivorous arthropods are also important consumers in terrestrial systems, their interaction with large mammal grazing is poorly studied. We performed a field experiment in a tallgrass prairie manipulating arthropod abundance in both bison-grazed and ungrazed areas following a prescribed burn and monitored the plant community for 15 mo. Total plant biomass was unchanged by the end of the experiment, but individual biomass of forbs and grasses was altered by our manipulations. Forb biomass in the bison-grazed/arthropod-reduced plots was two to three times higher than other treatments, while grass biomass was higher in bison-grazed plots where arthropods were unmanipulated. Grass and forb richness showed smaller responses, with a significant difference only in ungrazed areas. Our results suggest that bison grazing and arthropod herbivory work in a complementary way; bison reduce grass biomass, allowing forbs to increase, while herbivorous arthropods reduce forb biomass, allowing grasses to increase. Our study showed that removing herbivorous arthropods may have lengthened the transition from forb to grass dominance, therefore delaying the return of conditions conducive to future disturbance by fire. Therefore, we argue that arthropod herbivory, interacting with large mammal grazing, is an additional important process affecting the plant community composition and disturbance patterns in tallgrass prairies and should be investigated further in additional grassland systems.
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Vol. 73 • No. 4