With Matthew McCary, Jamin Dreyer, and Claudio Gratton. In Ecosphere 10, no. 2 (2019)
Emergent aquatic insects can be major conduits of resources moving from freshwater to adjacent terrestrial ecosystems. These allochthonous resources can influence the structure and function of adjacent ecosystems, yet their effect on arthropod consumer populations remains largely unknown. In this study, we investigated how flying adult midges influence terrestrial arthropod food webs in subarctic grasslands by blocking midge inputs over four years in 2 × 2-m plots near the shore of Lake Mývatn, Iceland, where midge abundances are naturally high. We examined responses of terrestrial arthropods by measuring their densities, community composition, and stable isotopes (δ13C) in midge-exclusion and open (control) plots. Cage treatments significantly reduced midge deposition into exclusion plots (99% reduction) relative to control plots but were designed to allow ground-active arthropods to move freely among plots. Predator densities (e.g., spiders and harvestmen) were on average 30% lower in exclusion plots relative to control plots, while no other trophic guild (detritivores, omnivores, or herbivores) showed a response to midge exclusion. As a result, blocking midges shifted arthropod communities toward a composition dominated by springtails, mites, and aphids relative to large predators such as wolf spiders and harvestmen. All trophic guilds (detritivores, omnivores, and predators), except for herbivores, were more depleted in δ13C in midge-exclusion plots, indicating an increased reliance on terrestrial (i.e., plant-based) resources when midge inputs were blocked. Arthropod predators were the only guild that had both a depleted δ13C and a negative density response to midge exclusion. Apart from predators, these results indicate a weak association between resource type (aquatic vs. terrestrial) and density responses across most arthropod guilds in this grassland system. Overall, our findings suggest that aquatic insect subsidies have significant effects on terrestrial arthropod communities, but predators appear most responsive to insect allochthony in subarctic grasslands.