Environmental and genetic control of insect abundance and herbivory along a forest elevational gradient
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- Garibaldi, L.A., Kitzberger, T. & Chaneton, E.J. Oecologia (2011) 167: 117. doi:10.1007/s00442-011-1978-0
Environmental conditions and plant genotype may influence insect herbivory along elevational gradients. Plant damage would decrease with elevation as temperature declines to suboptimal levels for insects. However, host plants at higher elevations may exhibit traits that either reduce or enhance leaf quality to insects, with uncertain net effects on herbivory. We examined folivory, insect abundance and leaf traits along six replicated elevational ranges in Nothofagus pumilio forests of the northern Patagonian Andes, Argentina. We also conducted a reciprocal transplant experiment between low- and high-elevation sites to test the extent of environmental and plant genetic control on insect abundance and folivory. We found that insect abundance, leaf size and specific leaf area decreased, whereas foliar phosphorous content increased, from low-, through mid- to high-elevation sites. Path analysis indicated that changes in both insect abundance and leaf traits were important in reducing folivory with increasing elevation and decreasing mean temperature. At both planting sites, plants from a low-elevation origin experienced higher damage and supported greater insect loads than plants from a high-elevation origin. The differences in leaf damage between sites were twofold larger than those between plant origins, suggesting that local environment was more important than host genotype in explaining folivory patterns. Different folivore guilds exhibited qualitatively similar responses to elevation. Our results suggest an increase in insect folivory on high-elevation N. pumilio forests under future climate warming scenarios. However, in the short-term, folivory increases might be smaller than expected from insect abundance only because at high elevations herbivores would encounter more resistant tree genotypes.