Plant Animal Interactions

Oecologia

, Volume 142, Issue 3, pp 413-420

First online:

Quality or quantity: the direct and indirect effects of host plants on herbivores and their natural enemies

  • Peter StilingAffiliated withDepartment of Biology, University of South Florida Email author 
  • , Daniel C. MoonAffiliated withDepartment of Biology, University of South Florida

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Abstract

Resource quality (plant nitrogen) and resource quantity (plant density) have often been argued to be among the most important factors influencing herbivore densities. A difficulty inherent in the studies that manipulate resource quality, by changing nutrient levels, is that resource quantity can be influenced simultaneously, i.e. fertilized plants grow more. In this study we disentangled the potentially confounding effects of plant quality and quantity on herbivore trophic dynamics by separately manipulating nutrients and plant density, while simultaneously reducing pressure from natural enemies (parasitoids) in a fully factorial design. Plant quality of the sea oxeye daisy, Borrichia frutescens, a common coastal species in Florida, was manipulated by adding nitrogen fertilizer to increase and sugar to decrease available nitrogen. Plant density was manipulated by pulling by hand 25 or 50% of Borrichia stems on each plot. Because our main focal herbivore was a gall making fly, Asphondylia borrichiae, which attacks only the apical meristems of plants, manipulating plant nitrogen levels was a convenient and reliable way to change plant quality without impacting quantity because fertilizer and sugar altered plant nitrogen content but not plant density. Our other focal herbivore was a sap-sucker, Pissonotus quadripustulatus, which taps the main veins of leaves. Parasitism of both herbivores was reduced via yellow sticky traps that caught hymenopteran parasitoids. Plant quality significantly affected the per stem density of both herbivores, with fertilization increasing, and sugar decreasing the densities of the two species but stem density manipulations had no significant effects. Parasitoid removal significantly increased the densities of both herbivores. Top-down manipulations resulted in a trophic cascade, as the density of Borrichia stems decreased significantly on parasitoid removal plots. This is because reduced parasitism increases gall density and galls can kill plant stems. In this system, plant quality and natural enemies impact per stem herbivore population densities but plant density does not.

Keywords

Host plant quantity Natural enemies Herbivores Trophic cascade