, Volume 165, Issue 2, pp 377-386
Date: 22 Sep 2010

Effects of above- and belowground herbivory on growth, pollination, and reproduction in cucumber

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Plants experience unique challenges due to simultaneous life in two spheres, above- and belowground. Interactions with other organisms on one side of the soil surface may have impacts that extend across this boundary. Although our understanding of plant–herbivore interactions is derived largely from studies of leaf herbivory, belowground root herbivores may affect plant fitness directly or by altering interactions with other organisms, such as pollinators. In this study, we investigated the effects of leaf herbivory, root herbivory, and pollination on plant growth, subsequent leaf herbivory, flower production, pollinator attraction, and reproduction in cucumber (Cucumis sativus). We manipulated leaf and root herbivory with striped cucumber beetle (Acalymma vittatum) adults and larvae, respectively, and manipulated pollination with supplemental pollen. Both enhanced leaf and root herbivory reduced plant growth, and leaf herbivory reduced subsequent leaf damage. Plants with enhanced root herbivory produced 35% fewer female flowers, while leaf herbivory had no effect on flower production. While leaf herbivory reduced the time that honey bees spent probing flowers by 29%, probing times on root-damaged plants were over twice as long as those on control plants. Root herbivory increased pollen limitation for seed production in spite of increased honey bee preference for plants with root damage. Leaf damage and hand-pollination treatments had no effect on fruit production, but plants with enhanced root damage produced 38% fewer fruits that were 25% lighter than those on control plants. Despite the positive effect of belowground damage on honey bee visitation, root herbivory had a stronger negative effect on plant reproduction than leaf herbivory. These results demonstrate that the often-overlooked effects of belowground herbivores may have profound effects on plant performance.

Communicated by Alice Winn.