Arthropod-Plant Interactions

, Volume 6, Issue 1, pp 15–25 | Cite as

How do extreme drought and plant community composition affect host plant metabolites and herbivore performance?

  • Julia WalterEmail author
  • Roman Hein
  • Harald Auge
  • Carl Beierkuhnlein
  • Sonja Löffler
  • Kerstin Reifenrath
  • Martin Schädler
  • Michael Weber
  • Anke Jentsch
Original Paper


Water availability and plant community composition alter plant nutrient availability and the accumulation of plant defence compounds therefore having an impact on herbivore performance. Combined effects of drought stress and plant community composition on leaf chemicals and herbivore performance are largely unexplored. The objective of our study was, therefore, to find out the impact of extreme drought and of plant community composition on plant–herbivore interactions. Larvae of the generalist butterfly Spodoptera littoralis were reared on leaves of the grass Holcus lanatus which was grown in experimental communities, differing in species- and functional group richness. These communities were either subjected to extreme drought or remained under ambient climatic conditions. Drought decreased relative water content, soluble protein content, nitrogen and total phenol content and increased the content of carbohydrates in the grass. As a consequence, the larvae feeding on drought-exposed plants revealed a longer larval stage, increased pupal weight and higher adult eclosion rates. Plant community composition mainly caused changes to the defensive compounds of the grass, but also marginally affected protein and carbohydrate content. Larvae feeding on species-richest communities without legumes showed the highest mortality. Our findings imply that climate change that is projected to increase the frequency of severe droughts, as well as alter plant community compositions, is likely to affect arthropod–plant interactions through an alteration of leaf chemicals.


Climate change EVENT-experiments Drought Diversity Legume 



Many thanks to Christian Schemm for his great work in leaf chemical analysis and also to Björn Reineking for advice on statistical problems. This work was kindly supported by the Helmholtz Impulse and Networking Fund through the Helmholtz Interdisciplinary Graduate School for Environmental Research (HIGRADE).


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Julia Walter
    • 1
    Email author
  • Roman Hein
    • 2
    • 4
  • Harald Auge
    • 3
  • Carl Beierkuhnlein
    • 4
  • Sonja Löffler
    • 5
  • Kerstin Reifenrath
    • 6
  • Martin Schädler
    • 3
  • Michael Weber
    • 7
  • Anke Jentsch
    • 2
  1. 1.Conservation BiologyHelmholtz Centre for Environmental Research- UFZLeipzigGermany
  2. 2.Disturbance EcologyBayreuth UniversityBayreuthGermany
  3. 3.Department of Community EcologyHelmholtz Centre for Environmental Research- UFZHalleGermany
  4. 4.Chair of BiogeographyBayreuth UniversityBayreuthGermany
  5. 5.LFE BrandenburgEberswaldeGermany
  6. 6.Animal Ecology and Tropical BiologyUniversity of WürzburgWürzburgGermany
  7. 7.Department of Plant PhysiologyBayreuth UniversityBayreuthGermany

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