Drought alters interactions between root and foliar herbivores

Muhammad Tariq, John T Rossiter, Denis J Wright, Joanna T Staley
Oecologia 2013, 172 (4): 1095-104
Drought can alter plant quality and the strength of trophic interactions between herbivore groups, and is likely to increase in occurrence and severity under climate change. We hypothesized that changes in plant chemistry due to root herbivory and drought stress would affect the performance of a generalist and a specialist aphid species feeding on a Brassica plant. High drought stress increased the negative effect of root herbivory on the performance of both aphid species (30% decrease in fecundity and 15% reduction in intrinsic rate of increase). Aphid performance was greatest at moderate drought stress, though the two species differed in which treatment combination maximized performance. Nitrogen concentration was greatest in high and moderately drought-stressed plants without root herbivores and moderately drought-stressed plants under low root herbivore density, and correlated positively with aphid fecundity for both species. Glucosinolate concentrations increased 62% under combined drought stress and root herbivory, and were positively correlated with extended aphid development time. Root herbivory did not influence relative water content and foliar biomass under normal water regimes but they decreased 24 and 63%, respectively, under high drought stress. This study shows that drought can alter the strength of interactions between foliar and root herbivores, and that plant chemistry is key in mediating such interactions. The two aphid species responded in a broadly similar way to root herbivore and drought-stress treatments, which suggests that generalized predictions of the effects of abiotic factors on interactions between above- and below-ground species may be possible.

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