Performance of moth larvae on birch in relation to altitude, climate, host quality and parasitoids
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We studied topographical and year-to-year variation in the performance (pupal weights, survival) and larval parasitism of Epirrita autumnata larvae feeding on mountain birch in northernmost Finland in 1993–1996. We found differences in both food plant quality and parasitism between sites ranging from 80 m to 320 m above sea level. Variation in food plant quality had particularly marked effects on larval survival. The advanced phenology of the birches in relation to the start of the larval period reduced pupal weights. Parasitism rates were different between years and between sites. The clearest site differences were in the proportions of different parasitoid species: Eulophus larvarum was most abundant at the lowest-altitude sites, and Cotesia jucunda at the highest. Differences in the performance of E. autumnata were related to temperature conditions: at higher temperatures, survival and the egg production index were lower, and larval parasitism was higher than at lower temperatures. The higher parasitism at higher temperatures was probably due to greater parasitoid activity during warmer days. In the comparison of different sources of spatial and annual variation in the performance of E. autumnata, the most important factor appeared to be egg mortality related to minimum winter temperature, followed by parasitism and, finally, the variation in food plant quality. If, as predicted, the climate gradually warms up, the effects of warmer summers on the outbreaks of E. autumnata suggest a decrease in outbreak intensity.
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