Arthropod assemblages are best predicted by plant species composition

A.P. Schaffers, I.P. Raemakers, K.V. Sykora, C.J.F. ter Braak

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

255 Citations (Scopus)


Insects and spiders comprise more than two-thirds of the Earth's total species diversity. There is wide concern, however, that the global diversity of arthropods may be declining even more rapidly than the diversity of vertebrates and plants. For adequate conservation planning, ecologists need to understand the driving factors for arthropod communities and devise methods that provide reliable predictions when resources do not permit exhaustive ground surveys. Which factor most successfully predicts arthropod community structure is still a matter of debate, however. The purpose of this study was to identify the factor best predicting arthropod assemblage composition. We investigated the species composition of seven functionally different arthropod groups (epigeic spiders, grasshoppers, ground beetles, weevils, hoppers, hoverflies, and bees) at 47 sites in The Netherlands comprising a range of seminatural grassland types and one heathland type. We then compared the actual arthropod composition with predictions based on plant species composition, vegetation structure, environmental data, flower richness, and landscape composition. For this we used the recently published method of predictive co-correspondence analysis, and a predictive variant of canonical correspondence analysis, depending on the type of predictor data. Our results demonstrate that local plant species composition is the most effective predictor of arthropod assemblage composition, for all investigated groups. In predicting arthropod assemblages, plant community composition consistently outperforms both vegetation structure and environmental conditions (even when the two are combined), and also performs better than the surrounding landscape. These results run against a common expectation of vegetation structure as the decisive factor. Such expectations, however, have always been biased by the fact that until recently no methods existed that could use an entire (plant) species composition in the explanatory role. Although more recent experimental diversity work has reawakened interest in the role of plant species, these studies still have not used (or have not been able to use) entire species compositions. They only consider diversity measures, both for plant and insect assemblages, which may obscure relationships. The present study demonstrates that the species compositions of insect and plant communities are clearly linked.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)782-794
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2008


  • community composition
  • vegetation structure
  • grazing management
  • experimental tests
  • insect herbivores
  • diversity
  • habitat
  • biodiversity
  • grassland
  • classification

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