, Volume 116, Issue 4, pp 528-535

Solar ultraviolet-B radiation affects plant-insect interactions in a natural ecosystem of Tierra del Fuego (southern Argentina)

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We examined the effects of solar ultraviolet-B radiation (UVB) on plant-herbivore interactions in native ecosystems of the Tierra del Fuego National Park (southern Argentina), an area of the globe that is frequently under the Antarctic “ozone hole” in early spring. We found that filtering out solar UVB from the sunlight received by naturally-occurring plants of Gunnera magellanica, a creeping perennial herb, significantly increased the number of leaf lesions caused by chewing insects. Field surveys suggested that early-season herbivory was principally due to the activity of moth larvae (Lepidoptera: Noctuidae). Manipulative field experiments showed that exposure to solar UVB changes the attractiveness of G. magellanica leaf tissue to natural grazers. In a laboratory experiment, locally caught moth caterpillars tended to eat more tissue from leaves grown without UVB than from leaves exposed to natural UVB during development; however, the difference between treatments was not significant. Leaves grown under solar UVB had slightly higher N levels than leaves not exposed to UVB; no differences between UVB treatments in specific leaf mass, relative water content, and total methanol-soluble phenolics were detected. Our results show that insect herbivory in a natural ecosystem is influenced by solar UVB, and that this influence could not be predicted from crude measurements of leaf physical and chemical characteristics and a common laboratory bioassay.