Effects of Nitrogen Deposition on Insect Herbivory: Implications for Community and Ecosystem Processes

Abstract

The deposition of anthropogenically fixed nitrogen (N) from the atmosphere onto land and plant surfaces has strong influences on terrestrial ecosystem processes. Although recent research has expanded our understanding of how N deposition affects ecosystems directly, less attention has been directed toward the investigation of how N deposition may affect ecosystems indirectly by modifying interactions among organisms. Empirical evidence suggests that there are several mechanisms by which N deposition may affect interactions between plants and insect herbivores. The most likely mechanisms are deposition-induced shifts in the quality and availability of host plant tissues. We discuss the effects of N deposition on host plant chemistry, production, and phenology, and we review the evidence for the effects of N deposition on insect herbivores at the individual, population, and community levels. In general, N deposition has positive effects on individual insect performance, probably due to deposition-induced improvements in host plant chemistry. These improvements include increased N and decreased carbon-based defensive compound concentrations. The evidence to date suggests that N deposition may also have a positive effect on insect populations. These effects may have considerable ecological, as well as economic consequences if the rates of herbivory on economically important timber species continue to increase. Deposition-induced changes in plant–herbivore relationships may affect community and ecosystem processes. However, we predict that the larger-scale consequences of interactions between N deposition and herbivory will vary based on site-specific factors. In addition, interactions between N deposition and other global-scale changes may lead to nonadditive effects on patterns of herbivory.

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Acknowledgements

The manuscript benefited from the insightful comments of G. Bharathan, D. Futuyma, J. Gurevitch, E. Holland, L. Hyatt, M. Litvak, T. Schowalter, and two anonymous reviewers.

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Throop, H., Lerdau, M. Effects of Nitrogen Deposition on Insect Herbivory: Implications for Community and Ecosystem Processes . Ecosystems 7, 109–133 (2004). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10021-003-0225-x

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Keywords

  • acid deposition
  • herbivory
  • global change
  • nitrogen deposition
  • plant–insect interactions
  • pollution