Intraspecific differences in plant chemotype determine the structure of arthropod food webs
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It is becoming increasingly appreciated that the structure and functioning of ecological food webs are controlled by the nature and level of plant chemicals. It is hypothesized that intraspecific variation in plant chemical resistance, in which individuals of a host-plant population exhibit genetic differences in their chemical contents (called ‘plant chemotypes’), may be an important determinant of variation in food web structure and functioning. We evaluated this hypothesis using field assessments and plant chemical assays in the tansy plant Tanacetum vulgare L. (Asteraceae). We examined food webs in which chemotypes of tansy plants are the resource for two specialized aphids, their predators and mutualistic ants. The density of the ant-tended aphid Metopeurum fuscoviride was significantly higher on particular chemotypes (borneol) than others. Clear chemotype preferences between predators were also detected. Aphid specialist seven-spotted ladybird beetles (Coccinella septempunctata) were more often found on camphor plants, while significantly higher numbers of the polyphagous nursery web spider (Pisaura mirabilis) were observed on borneol plants. The analysis of plant chemotype effects on the arthropod community clearly demonstrates a range of possible outcomes between plant-aphid-predator networks. The findings help to offer a deeper insight into how one important factor—plant chemical content—influences which species coexist within a food web on a particular host plant and the nature of their trophic linkages.
KeywordsAphids Ants Bottom-up effects Interactions Predation Top-down effects
This research was founded by the Institute of Research Programs of the Sapientia University, grant no. 1/13/05.01.2012. The authors declare no conflict of interest.
Author contribution statement
W. W. W. and A. B. conceived the experiments. A. B., K. B. and J. B. designed the experiments. A. B., K. B., J. B., R. V. S. and M. M. performed the experiments. S. E. Z., W. W. W., O. J. S. and A. B. analysed the data. A. B., W. W. W. and O. J. S. wrote the manuscript. S. E. Z. provided editorial advice.
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