, Volume 4, Issue 2, pp 81-94
Date: 29 Apr 2010

Effects of nitrogen fertilization on tritrophic interactions

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Abstract

Tritrophic interactions (plant—herbivore—natural enemy) are basic components of nearly all ecosystems, and are often heavily shaped by bottom-up forces. Numerous factors influence plants’ growth, defense, reproduction, and survival. One critical factor in plant life histories and subsequent trophic levels is nitrogen (N). Because of its importance to plant productivity, N is one of the most frequently used anthropogenic fertilizers in agricultural production and can exert a variety of bottom-up effects and potentially significantly alter tritrophic interactions through various mechanisms. In this paper, the potential effects of N on tritrophic interactions are reviewed. First, in plant-herbivore interactions, N availability can alter quality of the plant (from the herbivore’s nutritional perspective) as food by various means. Second, nitrogen effects can extend directly to natural enemies through herbivores by changes in herbivore quality vis-à-vis the natural enemy, and may even provide herbivores with a defense against natural enemies. Nitrogen also may affect the plant’s indirect defenses, namely the efficacy of natural enemies that kill herbivores attacking the plant. The effects may be expressed via (1) quantitatively and/or qualitatively changing herbivore-induced plant volatiles or other plant features that are crucial for foraging and attack success of natural enemies, (2) modifying plant architecture that might affect natural enemy function, and (3) altering the quality of plant-associated food and shelter for natural enemies. These effects, and their interactive top–down and bottom-up influences, have received limited attention to date, but are of growing significance with the need for expanding global food production (with accompanying use of fertilizer amendments), the widening risks of fertilizer pollution, and the continued increase in atmospheric CO2.

Handling Editor: Robert Glinwood.