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Deciduous leaf drop reduces insect herbivory

Abstract

Deciduous leaf fall is thought to be an adaptation that allows plants living in seasonal environments to reduce water loss and damage during unfavorable periods while increasing photosynthetic rates during favorable periods. Observations of natural variation in leaf shedding suggest that deciduous leaf fall may also allow plants to reduce herbivory. I tested this hypothesis by experimentally manipulating leaf retention for Quercus lobata and observing natural rates of herbivory. Quercus lobata is primarily deciduous although individuals show considerable natural variation in leaf retention. Oak saplings with no leaves through winter experienced reduced attack by cynipid gall makers the following spring. This pattern was consistent with the positive correlation between natural leaf persistence and gall numbers. These cynipids do not overwinter on the leaves that trees retain through winter, although they appear to use persistent leaves as oviposition cues. If these results are general for woody plants in continental temperate habitats, they suggest that an important and unrecognized consequence of deciduous leaf shedding may be a reduction in herbivore damage, and that this effect should be included in models of deciduous and evergreen behavior.

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Acknowledgments

I thank Aaron Combs, Mikaela Huntzinger, Claire Karban, Jesse Karban, Corinne Klein, and Kaori Shiojiri for help with fieldwork, Penny Gullan, Brian Inouye, Kathy Schick, and Phil Ward for help identifying insects, Anurag Agrawal, Matt Ayres, Matt Forister, John Lill, Art Shapiro, Nora Underwood, Louie Yang, and Truman Young for improving the manuscript, and Bob Ricklefs for discussions that made me aware that this is an unresolved problem. This work was conducted in the UCD Putah Creek Reserve and was supported by NSF DEB-0121050.

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Correspondence to Richard Karban.

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Communicated by Craig Osenberg.

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Karban, R. Deciduous leaf drop reduces insect herbivory. Oecologia 153, 81 (2007). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00442-007-0709-z

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Keywords

  • Cynipid
  • Evergreen
  • Gall
  • Leaf abscission
  • Leaf lifetime
  • Quercus