Arthropod-Plant Interactions

, Volume 9, Issue 2, pp 149–161 | Cite as

Elevated temperature and periodic water stress alter growth and quality of common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) and monarch (Danaus plexippus) larval performance

  • John J. Couture
  • Shawn P. Serbin
  • Philip A. Townsend
Original Paper


In this study, we examined the independent and interactive effects of temperature and water availability on the growth and foliar traits of common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) and performance of a specialist herbivore, larvae of the monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus). Milkweed from multiple population sources collected across a latitudinal gradient in Wisconsin, USA, were grown under all combinations of ambient or elevated temperature and the presence or absence of periodic water stress. Elevated temperature marginally increased, while water stress decreased plant growth. Milkweed from more northerly latitudes experienced larger growth responses to elevated temperature and were more resistant to water stress, especially under higher temperatures. Elevated temperature and water stress also altered milkweed composite foliar trait profiles. Elevated temperature generally increased leaf nitrogen and structural compounds, and decreased leaf mass per area. Water stress also elevated foliar nitrogen, but reduced defensive traits. Monarch larvae performed well on milkweed under elevated temperature and water stress, but gained the most mass on plants exposed to both treatments in combination. Our findings suggest that milkweed populations from more northerly latitudes in the upper Midwest may benefit more from rising temperatures than those in southerly locations, but that these beneficial effects depend on water availability. Monarch larvae grew larger on plants from all experimental treatments relative to ambient condition controls, indicating that future changes in milkweed presence on the landscape will likely influence monarch populations more than the effects of future changes in plant quality on larval performance.


Asclepias Common milkweed Danaus plexippus Elevated temperature Monarch butterfly Water stress Plant–insect interactions 



We would like to thank Clayton Kingdon and Holly Hovanek for help with greenhouse collections. This work was supported by the University of Wisconsin Graduate School, McIntire-Stennis Formula Funds (Project WIS01531), and USDA NIFA AFRI Fellowship Grant 2012-67012-19900 to JJC.

Supplementary material

11829_2015_9367_MOESM1_ESM.docx (413 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 413 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • John J. Couture
    • 1
  • Shawn P. Serbin
    • 1
    • 2
  • Philip A. Townsend
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Forest and Wildlife EcologyUniversity of Wisconsin-MadisonMadisonUSA
  2. 2.Environmental Sciences DepartmentBrookhaven National LaboratoryUptonUSA

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