Long-term burning interacts with herbivory to slow decomposition

Adam D. Kay, Josh Mankowski, Sarah E. Hobbie

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

21 Scopus citations


Fires can generate spatial variation in trophic interactions such as insect herbivory. If trophic interactions mediated by fire influence nutrient cycling, they could feed back on the more immediate consequences of fire on nutrient dynamics. Here we consider herbivore-induced effects on oak litter quality and decomposition within a long-term manipulation of fire frequency in central Minnesota, USA. We focused on bur oak (Quercus macrocarpa) trees, which are common across the fire frequency gradient and are often heavily infested with either lace bugs (Corythuca arcuata) or aphids (Hoplochaithropsus quercicola). We used targeted exclusion to test for herbivore-specific effects on litter chemistry and subsequent decomposition rates. Lace bug exclusion led to lower lignin concentrations in litterfall and subsequently accelerated decomposition. In contrast, aphid exclusion had no effect on litterfall chemistry or on decomposition rate, despite heavy infestation levels. Effects of lace bug herbivory on litterfall chemistry and decomposition were similar in burned and unburned areas. However, lace bug herbivory was much more common in burned than in unburned areas, whereas aphid herbivory was more common in unburned areas. These results suggest that frequent fires promote oak-herbivore interactions that decelerate decomposition. This effect should amplify other influences of fire that slow nitrogen cycling.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1188-1194
Number of pages7
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 1 2008


  • Afterlife effects
  • Aphid herbivory
  • Corythuca arcuata
  • Decomposition
  • Fire
  • Hoplochaithropsus quercicola
  • Lace bug herbivory
  • Lignin
  • Nitrogen cycling
  • Oak savanna
  • Phenolics
  • Quercus macrocarpa

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