Losses of birch foliage due to insect herbivory along geographical gradients in Europe: a climate-driven pattern?
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The study reports large-scale geographical variation in foliar damage of Betula pubescens and B. pendula by leaf-chewing and leaf-mining insects in Northern and Central Europe. The data were obtained in late summer of 2004 from 90 study sites located along several latitudinal and longitudinal gradients up to 1275 km in length; repeatability of a pattern detected was checked in 2005. Foliar damage in B. pubescens due to endemic herbivory increased in Fennoscandia from 1–2% at 70°N to 5–7% at 60°N; this pattern was best explained by mean July temperatures. Higher foliar losses in southern Fennoscandia were mostly due to an increase in proportion of damaged leaves, while an average consumption per damaged leaf increased only slightly. Foliar damage in B. pendula in Fennoscandia followed the same pattern as described for B. pubescens, although the overall loss of leaf area was only ca. 70% of that in B. pubescens. In contrast, there was no geographical or climatic pattern in damage of B. pendula by insect herbivores in Central Europe; average foliar losses were around 5% between 48°N and 60°N. These data suggest that damage of northern birch forests by leaf-chewing and leaf-mining insects will at least double with expected climatic warming, while in more southern regions the effects of climate change on birch foliar losses due to insect herbivory may be small or even negligible.
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