, Volume 149, Issue 3, pp 444–455 | Cite as

Consequences of nitrogen and phosphorus limitation for the performance of two planthoppers with divergent life-history strategies

  • Andrea F. Huberty
  • Robert F. Denno
Plant Animal Interactions


Phytophagous insects have a much higher nitrogen and phosphorus content than their host plants, an elemental mismatch that places inherent constraints on meeting nutritional requirements. Although nitrogen limitation is well documented in insect herbivores, phosphorus limitation is poorly studied. Using factorial experiments in the laboratory and field, in which levels of soil nitrogen and phosphorus were manipulated, we studied the relative consequences of macronutrient limitation for two herbivores, namely the phloem-feeding planthoppers Prokelisia dolus and P. marginata. These planthoppers inhabit the salt marshes of North America where large stands of their Spartina host plant are found. Notably, these congeners differ in their dispersal abilities; P. marginata is dispersive whereas P. dolus is sedentary. Both nitrogen and phosphorus subsidies enhanced the nitrogen and phosphorus content of Spartina. When P. dolus and P. marginata were raised on plants with an enriched nitrogen signature, they exhibited greater survival, grew to a larger size, developed more rapidly, and achieved higher densities than on nitrogen-deficient plants. However, P. marginata experienced greater fitness penalties than P. dolus on nitrogen-deficient plants. Phosphorus limitation and associated fitness penalties were not as severe as nitrogen limitation for P. marginata, and were not detected in P. dolus. The tempered response of P. dolus to N- and P-deficient Spartina is probably due to its greater investment in feeding musculature and hence ability to compensate for nutrient deficiencies with increased ingestion. To cope with deteriorating plant quality, P. dolus employs compensatory feeding, whereas P. marginata disperses to higher quality Spartina. When its option of dispersal is eliminated and P. marginata is confined on nutrient-deficient plants, its performance is drastically reduced compared with P. dolus. This research highlights the importance of interfacing herbivore life-history strategies with ecological stoichiometry in order to interpret the consequences of macronutrient limitation on herbivore performance and population dynamics.


Dispersal ability Ecological stoichiometry Nitrogen Phosphorus Prokelisia planthopper 



Larry Douglass, Irv Forseth, Bill Lamp, Libby Marschall, Charlie Mitter, and two anonymous reviewers provided comments on earlier drafts of this article, and we hope to have incorporated their many insightful suggestions. We would like to thank Jim Elser and Marcia Kyle for providing laboratory space and assistance with the phosphorus analyses and Irv Forseth for assistance with the nitrogen analyses. This research was supported by an EPA STAR Graduate Fellowship to A.F.H. and NSF Grants DEB-9903601 and DEB-0313903 to R.F.D. These experiments comply with the current laws of the USA.


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© Springer-Verlag 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of EntomologyUniversity of MarylandCollege ParkUSA

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