Mismatched diets: defining the nutritional landscape of grasshopper communities in a variable environment

Douglas Lawton, Marion Le Gall, Cathy Waters, Arianne J. Cease

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


Animal populations must be able to acquire an adequate amount of nutrients to persist regardless of what environment they are in. In highly variable environments, such as drylands where food sources are limited, this potential mismatch between physiological demands and what is available in the environment is accentuated. For herbivores, the balance of macronutrients (protein and carbohydrate) is particularly important and both nutrients are highly variable in plants both spatially and temporally. Whereas it is known that many herbivores will forage multiple plants to achieve an optimal nutritional ratio (termed the intake target), it is less known how herbivores with different life history strategies address this in variable environments. In this study, we measured the intake targets of three grasshopper species with differing life history strategies, two migratory and one non-migratory, at three locations in New South Wales, Australia. We measured nutrient variation in plants spatially and temporally by sampling three different locations and repeated the measurement twice for one of these locations. At all three locations and both times, host plant protein differed substantially but carbohydrate content remained constant. The non-migratory grasshopper species shifted their intake target, presumably to redress nutrient imbalances. On the other hand, the two migratory grasshopper species largely maintained the same intake target, even when in a nutritionally suboptimal environment. These results suggest that non-migratory species are likely more limited in their capacity to forage for optimal diets and may rely more on digestion to survive in nutritionally suboptimal locations. In contrast, migratory grasshoppers may migrate to obtain the nutrients they need instead of redressing imbalances locally. Therefore, a strong metapopulation structure may aid in the persistence of migratory species at larger spatial scales. Since herbivores, especially insects, are important from nutrient cycling to food chains, understanding how populations persist in nutritionally variable environments is important to the overall ecosystem functioning. Further research should consider how nutritional demands drive population dynamics and how it changes with life history strategies.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere03409
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2021


  • Acrididae
  • Australia
  • drylands
  • grasshoppers
  • insect herbivory
  • nutritional ecology

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Ecology


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