Using Auchenorrhyncha (Insecta: Hemiptera) to develop a new insect index in measuring North American tallgrass prairie quality

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Auchenorrhyncha (i.e.; leafhoppers, treehoppers, spittlebugs, and planthoppers) represent some of the most diverse groups of herbivorous insects in the tallgrass prairie biome, they have close associations with many native prairie grasses and forbs, and respond in predictable ways to changes in native grassland degradation. These attributes make Auchenorrhyncha ideal candidates in the development of a habitat quality index to measure tallgrass prairie quality. In this study we propose the development of a species-based habitat quality index called the Auchenorrhyncha quality index or AQI as a useful method in tracking the condition of tallgrass prairie quality. The AQI is computed by summing six ecological characteristics (i.e.; host plant specificity, voltinism, overwintering microhabitat, wing length, habitat fidelity, and origin) for each Auchenorrhynchan insect encountered, yielding coefficient of conservatism (CC) values that range from 0 (habitat generalist/tolerant to disturbance) to 18 (habitat specific/intolerant to disturbance). These CC values are averaged and combined with species richness producing un-weighted by abundance AQI (AQI w/outN) and weighted by abundance AQI (AQIw/N). The performance of the AQI was evaluated by examining the effects of sampling intensity on this index using a sweep net and a vacuum apparatus from 10 sites located on the three main North American tallgrass prairie communities, wet-mesic, sand, and loess hill. Scientists and land managers can adequately sample Auchenorrhyncha from four transects using a vacuum. Also, the highest AQI values were found from loess hill and sand prairies, indicating that conservation efforts should focus on these prairie communities. Additional applications of the AQI may include: (1) discriminating prairie quality at various spatial scales; (2) testing hypotheses about the effects of disturbance on prairie habitat (e.g. prescribed burning); (3) using the AQI as a model in developing habitat quality indices based on other diverse groups of grassland insects; and (4) the AQI has the capacity to be readily modified in assessing the quality of other biomes. Ultimately, the AQI should be used in combination with other habitat quality indices based on other diverse groups of organisms, such as plants and other insects, to provide a more complete assessment of native habitat quality.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)58-64
Number of pages7
JournalEcological Indicators
StatePublished - Feb 2013


  • Auchenorrhyncha
  • Habitat evaluation
  • Habitat quality index
  • Tallgrass prairie

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Decision Sciences
  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Ecology


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