A simple bottom–up hypothesis predicts that plant responses to nutrient addition should determine the response of consumers: more productive and less diverse plant communities, the usual result of long-term nutrient addition, should support greater consumer abundances and biomass and less consumer diversity. We tested this hypothesis for the response of an aboveground arthropod community to an uncommonly long-term (24-year) nutrient addition experiment in moist acidic tundra in arctic Alaska. This experiment altered plant community composition, decreased plant diversity and increased plant production and biomass as a deciduous shrub, Betula nana, became dominant. Consistent with strong effects on the plant community, nutrient addition altered arthropod community composition, primarily through changes to herbivore taxa in the canopy-dwelling arthropod assemblage and detritivore taxa in the ground assemblage. Surprisingly, however, the loss of more than half of plant species was accompanied by negligible changes to diversity (rarefied richness) of arthropod taxa (which were primarily identified to family). Similarly, although long-term nutrient addition in this system roughly doubles plant production and biomass, arthropod abundance was either unchanged or decreased by nutrient addition, and total arthropod biomass was unaffected. Our findings differ markedly from the handful of terrestrial studies that have found bottom-up diversity cascades and productivity responses by consumers to nutrient addition. This is probably because unlike grasslands and salt marshes (where such studies have historically been conducted), this arctic tundra community becomes less palatable, rather than more so, after many years of nutrient addition due to increased dominance of B. nana. Additionally, by displacing insulating mosses and increasing the cover of shrubs that cool and shade the canopy microenvironment, fertilization may displace arthropods keenly attuned to microclimate. These results indicate that terrestrial arthropod assemblages may be more constrained by producer traits (i.e. palatability, structure) than they are by total primary production or producer diversity.
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Acknowledgements – We thank J. Laundre, L. Van Der Pol, K. Contreras, K. Daly, S. Meierotto, S. Sweet, J. Perez, H. Chmura, J. Krause, J. Stuckey and PolarTREC teacher N. Kemp for assistance in the laboratory and field, and D. Sikes and J. Demuth for providing laboratory space. This manuscript was greatly improved with input from Kimberly LaPierre. Funding – This research was supported by National Science Foundation Grants DEB 102683 to support the Arctic LTER to G. Shaver, OPP 0908502 to L. Gough, and DEB 1210704 to A. Koltz, as well as funding from CREOi and the National Geographic Committee for Research and Exploration to A. Koltz.
© 2017 The Authors