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Insect Herbivory of Understory Plants in a Future Warmed World

Paper Reviewed
Nooten,S.S. and Hughes, L. 2014. Potential impacts of climate change on patterns of insect herbivory on understorey plant species: A transplant experiment. Austral Ecology 39: 668-676.

In a paper published in Austral Ecology, Nooten and Hughes (2014) write that interactions between plants and their insect herbivores may be significantly altered "if herbivores (and insects in general) respond more rapidly to climatic change, because of their greater mobility and faster life cycles." And they report that "such disruptions to present-day plant-herbivore associations are expected to lead to changes in the magnitude and/or pattern of herbivore pressure on host plants." But is this really so?

In an attempt to find out, the two Aussie scientists transplanted groups of four understorey shrubs "outside their native range into a climate 2.5°C warmer in annual mean temperature," where after 12 months they "assessed the types and amount of herbivore leaf damage, compared with plants transplanted to a control site within their native range." And what did this effort reveal?

Nooten and Hughes report that total leaf herbivory ranged from approximately 3-10% across all plant species and that there were no significant differences among the levels and patterns of herbivory between control and warm sites for three of the four studied species. And they thus conclude that their findings suggest that "with moderate climate warming, most herbivory will continue to be dominated by chewers and suckers, and that the overall level of foliage loss will be similar to that experienced presently."

Posted 24 December 2014