Plant defense and density dependence in the population growth of herbivores

Anurag A Agrawal
American Naturalist 2004, 164 (1): 113-20
Long-standing theory has predicted that plant defensive and nutritional traits contribute to the population dynamics of insect herbivores. To examine the role of plant variation in density dependence, I took a comparative approach by conducting density manipulation experiments with the specialist aphid, Aphis nerii, on 18 species of milkweed (Asclepias spp.). The strength of density dependence varied on the plant species. Variation in plant secondary compounds (cardenolides), trichomes, leaf carbon and nitrogen concentrations, and seed mass of the milkweed species predicted the R(max) of aphid populations, while specific leaf weight, carbon concentration, latex, water content, and trichome density were significant predictors of the strength of density dependence. Thus, plant traits that probably evolved for primary and defensive functions contribute to the ecological dynamics of herbivore populations.

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