Wet and dry extremes reduce arthropod biomass independently of leaf phenology in the wet tropics.

Newell, Felicity L; Ausprey, Ian J; Robinson, Scott K (2023). Wet and dry extremes reduce arthropod biomass independently of leaf phenology in the wet tropics. Global Change Biology, 29(2), pp. 308-323. Blackwell Science 10.1111/gcb.16379

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Warming temperatures are increasing rainfall extremes, yet arthropod responses to climatic fluctuations remain poorly understood. Here, we used spatiotemporal variation in tropical montane climate as a natural experiment to compare the importance of biotic versus abiotic drivers in regulating arthropod biomass. We combined intensive field data on arthropods, leaf phenology and in situ weather across a 1700-3100 m elevation and rainfall gradient, along with desiccation-resistance experiments and multi-decadal modelling. We found limited support for biotic drivers with weak increases in some herbivorous taxa on shrubs with new leaves, but no landscape-scale effects of leaf phenology, which tracked light and cloud cover. Instead, rainfall explained extensive interannual variability with maximum biomass at intermediate rainfall (130 mm month-1 ) as both 3 months of high and low rainfall reduced arthropods by half. Based on 50 years of regional rainfall, our dynamic arthropod model predicted shifts in the timing of biomass maxima within cloud forests before plant communities transition to seasonally deciduous dry forests (mean annual rainfall 1000-2500 mm vs. <800 mm). Rainfall magnitude was the primary driver, but during high solar insolation, the 'drying power of air' (VPDmax ) reduced biomass within days contributing to drought related to the El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO). Highlighting risks from drought, experiments demonstrated community-wide susceptibility to desiccation except for some caterpillars in which melanin-based coloration appeared to reduce the effects of evaporative drying. Overall, we provide multiple lines of evidence that several months of heavy rain or drought reduce arthropod biomass independently of deep-rooted plants with the potential to destabilize insectivore food webs.

Item Type:

Journal Article (Original Article)


08 Faculty of Science > Department of Biology > Institute of Ecology and Evolution (IEE)

UniBE Contributor:

Newell, Felicity, Ausprey, Ian James


500 Science > 570 Life sciences; biology




Blackwell Science




Pubmed Import

Date Deposited:

21 Sep 2022 15:30

Last Modified:

13 Dec 2022 00:13

Publisher DOI:


PubMed ID:


Uncontrolled Keywords:

desiccation insect biomass leaf phenology precipitation extremes rainfall gradient tropical montane cloud forest tropical phenology vapor pressure deficit





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