Open Access Research article

Disentangling direct and indirect effects of experimental grassland management and plant functional-group manipulation on plant and leafhopper diversity

Georg Everwand, Verena Rösch, Teja Tscharntke and Christoph Scherber*

Author Affiliations

Department of Crop Science, Agroecology, Georg-August-University, Grisebachstrasse 6, 37077 Göttingen, Germany

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BMC Ecology 2014, 14:1  doi:10.1186/1472-6785-14-1

Published: 17 January 2014



Plant biodiversity can affect trophic interactions in many ways, including direct bottom-up effects on insects, but is negatively affected by agricultural intensification. Grassland intensification promotes plant productivity, resulting in changes in plant community composition, and impacts on higher trophic levels. Here, we use a novel grassland management experiment combining manipulations of cutting and fertilization with experimental changes in plant functional group composition (independent of management effects) to disentangle the direct and indirect effects of agricultural management on insect herbivore diversity and abundance. We used leafhoppers as model organisms as they are a key insect taxon in grasslands and react rapidly to management changes. Leafhoppers were sampled between May and September 2010 using standardized sweep netting and pan traps.


Plant diversity, functional group composition and management regime in grasslands affected leafhopper species richness and abundance. Higher cutting frequencies directly led to decreasing leafhopper species richness, presumably due to the higher disturbance frequency and the reduction in food-resource heterogeneity. In contrast, fertilizer application had only a small indirect negative effect via enhanced aboveground plant biomass, reduced plant diversity and changes in functional group composition. The manipulated increase in grass cover had contrasting direct and indirect effects on leafhopper species richness: grass cover directly increased leafhopper species richness, but negatively affected plant diversity, which in turn was positively related to leafhopper species richness. In conclusion, insect diversity is driven in complex direct and indirect ways by grassland management, including changes in functional group composition.


The availability of preferred food sources and the frequency of disturbance are important direct and indirect drivers of leafhopper species richness, interacting in complex ways with plant diversity and food resource heterogeneity.

Auchenorrhyncha; Management intensity; Mowing; Plant species composition; Forb; Graminoid; Biodiversity experiment; Removal experiment