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Plant composition changes in a small-scale community have a large effect on the performance of an economically important grassland pest

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Xinghu Qin, Huihui Wu, Xunbing Huang, T. Ryan Lock, Robert L. Kallenbach, Jingchuan Ma, Md. Panna Ali, Xiongbing Tu, Guangchun Cao, Guangjun Wang, Xiangqun Nong, Mark R. McNeill, Zehua Zhang

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The grasshopper Oedaleus asiaticus Bey-Bienko (Acrididae: Oedipodinae) is a dominant and economically important pest that is widely distributed across the Mongolian plateau. This herbivore pest causes major damage to the grassland of the Inner Mongolian steppe in China. The population dynamics of herbivore pests is affected by grassland management practices (e.g., mowing and heavy livestock grazing) that alter plant community structures and stoichiometric characteristics. For example, O. asiaticus outbreak is closely associated with plant preference changes caused by nitrogen loss from heavy livestock grazing. However, the manner by which small-scale variation in vegetation affects grasshopper performance and promotes outbreak is poorly characterized. To address this question, we investigated the relationship between small-scale (1 m2) vegetation variability and measures of O. asiaticus performance associated with plant stoichiometric characteristics.


We found that food preferences of O. asiaticus varied significantly, but maintained a specific dietary structure for different plant compositions. Notably, small-scale changes in plant community composition significantly affected grasshopper food preference and body size. Partial least-square modeling indicated that plant proportion and biomass affected grasshopper body size and density. We found that this effect differed between sexes. Specifically, female body mass positively correlated with the proportion of Stipa krylovii grass, whereas male mass positively correlated with the proportion of Artemisia frigida grass. Further analyses indicated that grasshopper performance is closely associated with plant stoichiometric traits that might be responsible for the pest’s plague.


This study provides valuable information for managing grasshoppers using rational grassland management practices.



Original languageEnglish
Article number32
Number of pages18
JournalBMC Ecology
Publication statusPublished - 4 Sep 2019

    Research areas

  • Plant composition, Grasshopper plague, Plant stoichiometric traits, Grassland conservation

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