Tuesday, August 7, 2007 - 10:30 AM

COS 27-8: Long-term burning interacts with herbivory to slow decomposition

Adam D. Kay1, Josh Mankowski1, and Sarah E. Hobbie2. (1) University of St. Thomas, (2) University of Minnesota

Fires can generate spatial variation in trophic interactions such as insect herbivory by altering microclimate and plant chemistry.  If trophic interactions mediated by fire influence nutrient cycling, they could feedback 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, a common tree across the fire frequency gradient, which are often heavily infested with either lace bugs (Corythuca arcuata) or aphids (Hoplochaithropsus quercicola) at this site.  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, while 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 direct and indirect influences of fire that lead to lower rates of N cycling.