Plant-mediated interactions between shoot-feeding aphids and root-feeding nematodes depend on nitrate fertilization

Magdalene Kutyniok, Caroline Müller
Oecologia 2013, 173 (4): 1367-77
The plant metabolite composition is modulated by various abiotic and biotic factors including nutrient availability and herbivory. In turn, induced changes in plant quality can affect herbivore performance and mediate indirect interactions between spatially separated herbivores sharing a host. Studies on plant-mediated herbivore interactions have been carried out at single fertilization regimes only, but we hypothesized that nutrient availability modifies these interactions. Therefore, we studied the interactions between two vascular tissue herbivores, the aboveground feeding aphid Brevicoryne brassicae and the belowground infesting nematode Heterodera schachtii, on Arabidopsis thaliana grown under two nitrate fertilization conditions (varying by 33 %). Furthermore, we investigated plant growth and primary metabolic responses to fertilization and herbivore treatments, which could potentially mediate these interactions, as the herbivores may act as metabolic sinks. Whereas nematodes had no effects on aphids, aphid presence influenced nematodes in opposite directions, depending on fertilization: at low nitrate supply, aphids had a promoting effect on nematodes, whereas at high nitrate fertilization they lowered the nematode infestation compared to control plants. Plants produced significantly more biomass under high nitrate supply but C and N contents were not altered. Primary metabolite profiles differed only marginally between roots of both fertilization treatments in plants with and without aphids, indicating that nematodes may respond to these or other metabolic modifications, which are caused by minute environmental changes, in a sensitive way. Our results highlight the need to consider the importance of plant nutrient availability on the outcome of interactions between co-occurring herbivores in future studies.

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