Ecological effects of aphid abundance, genotypic variation, and contemporary evolution on plants
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- Turley, N.E. & Johnson, M.T.J. Oecologia (2015) 178: 747. doi:10.1007/s00442-015-3276-8
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Genetic variation and contemporary evolution within populations can shape the strength and nature of species interactions, but the relative importance of these forces compared to other ecological factors is unclear. We conducted a field experiment testing the effects of genotypic variation, abundance, and presence/absence of green peach aphids (Myzus persicae) on the growth, leaf nitrogen, and carbon of two plant species (Brassica napus and Solanum nigrum). Aphid genotype affected B. napus but not S. nigrum biomass explaining 20 and 7 % of the total variation, respectively. Averaging across both plant species, the presence/absence of aphids had a 1.6× larger effect size (Cohen’s d) than aphid genotype, and aphid abundance had the strongest negative effects on plant biomass explaining 29 % of the total variation. On B. napus, aphid genotypes had different effects on leaf nitrogen depending on their abundance. Aphids did not influence leaf nitrogen in S. nigrum nor leaf carbon in either species. We conducted a second experiment in the field to test whether contemporary evolution could affect plant performance. Aphid populations evolved in as little as five generations, but the rate and direction of this evolution did not consistently vary between plant species. On one host species (B. napus), faster evolving populations had greater negative effects on host plant biomass, with aphid evolutionary rate explaining 23 % of the variation in host plant biomass. Together, these results show that genetic variation and evolution in an insect herbivore can play important roles in shaping host plant ecology.