Original Paper

Arthropod-Plant Interactions

, Volume 5, Issue 3, pp 163-173

First online:

Open Access This content is freely available online to anyone, anywhere at any time.

The effect of nitrogen additions on bracken fern and its insect herbivores at sites with high and low atmospheric pollution

  • Michele Eatough JonesAffiliated withDepartment of Entomology, University of California Email author 
  • , Mark E. FennAffiliated withForest Service, Pacific Southwest Research Station, Forest Fire Laboratory, USDA
  • , Timothy D. PaineAffiliated withDepartment of Entomology, University of California


The impact of atmospheric pollution, including nitrogen deposition, on bracken fern herbivores has never been studied. Bracken fern is globally distributed and has a high potential to accumulate nitrogen in plant tissue. We examined the response of bracken fern and its herbivores to N fertilization at a high and low pollution site in forests downwind of Los Angeles, California. Foliage from the high pollution site had higher total N and nitrate than the low pollution site. Bracken fern biomass, foliar N and herbivore abundance were all affected by fertilization treatments. Biomass and herbivore responses were greatest during a year of high precipitation. N additions at the low pollution site were primarily associated with decreased fern biomass, and with transient impacts on herbivore abundance. N additions significantly affected bracken fern and its herbivores at the high pollution site where foliar N and nitrate decreased in response to N addition treatments, while biomass and herbivore abundance increased. High atmospheric deposition and fertilization were both associated with increased herbivore richness. Herbivore abundance was most impacted by fertilization during the early expansion of fern fronds. The most abundant chewing herbivore, a sawfly, was positively associated with plant nitrogen at the low pollution site, but negatively associated with plant nitrogen at the high pollution site, where concentrations of both total N and nitrate were high. While overall growth and herbivore impacts in this xeric location were limited, the variable response we observed associated with rainfall, may indicate impacts could be larger in more mesic environments.


Nitrogen deposition Pteridium aquilinum Bracken fern Insect herbivore San Bernardino Mountains