Impacts of eriophyoid gall mites on arctic willow in a rapidly changing Arctic
Arctic plants and herbivores are subject to ongoing climatic changes that are more rapid and extreme than elsewhere on the planet, and thus it is pivotal to understand the arctic plant-herbivore interactions in a global change context. We examined how infestation by an eriophyoid gall mite affects the circumpolar shrub Salix arctica, and how the effects vary across vegetation types. Specifically, we compared multiple leaf characteristics (leaf area, biomass, nutrient levels, δ15N and δ13C, and stress and performance of the photosynthetic apparatus) of infested leaves to those of un-infested leaves. Furthermore, we examined how altered environmental conditions, here experimentally manipulated levels of temperature, water and nutrients, shading, and UV-B radiation, affect the prevalence, density, and intensity of gall mite infestation and its impacts on S. arctica. Infested leaves were smaller in area and biomass and had lower nitrogen and carbon pools. However, their carbon concentration was higher, possibly because the galls acted as carbon sinks. The smaller photosynthetic area and lower nutrient content caused increased stress on the photosynthetic apparatus in infested leaves. The remaining leaf tissue responded with a higher photosynthetic performance, although there were indications of a general reduction in photosynthesis. Female leaves were more affected than male leaves. The experimental manipulations of environmental conditions did not affect the gall prevalence, density, or intensity on S. arctica leaves. Rather, plants responded positively to the treatments, reducing the effects of the galls to in-significance. This suggests a higher tolerance and defense against gall mites under future climate conditions.