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Travel costs, oviposition behaviour and the dynamics of insect–plant systems

Abstract

Insect attack can have major consequences for plant population dynamics. We used individually based simulation models to ask how insect oviposition behaviour influences persistence and potential stability of an herbivore–plant system. We emphasised effects on system dynamics of herbivore travel costs and of two kinds of behaviour that might evolve to mitigate travel costs: insect clutch size behaviour (whether eggs are laid singly or in groups) and female aggregation behaviour (whether females prefer or avoid plants already bearing eggs). Travel costs that increase as plant populations drop lead to inverse density dependence of plant reproduction under herbivore attack. Female clutch size and aggregation behaviours also strongly affect system dynamics. When females lay eggs in large clutches or aggregate their clutches, herbivore damage varies strongly among plants, providing probabilistic refuges that permit plant reproduction and persistence. However, the population dynamics depend strongly on whether insect behaviour is fixed or responds adaptively to plant population size: when (and only when) females increase clutch size or aggregation as plants become rare, refuges from herbivory weaken at high plant density, creating inverse density dependence in plant reproduction. Both herbivore travel costs themselves, and also insect behaviour that might evolve in response to travel costs, can thus create plant density dependence—a basic requirement for regulation of plant populations by their insect herbivores.

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Acknowledgements

We thank Steve Hendrix, John Nason, Kristie Heard and two anonymous reviewers for extensive comments and discussion. Stefanie Hartmann graciously translated German literature for us. The contribution of LCR was supported in part by a summer fellowship from the Avis Cone Foundation and that of SBH by grants from the National Science Foundation (USA; DEB-9628969 and DEB-0107752) and from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (Canada).

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Correspondence to Stephen B. Heard.

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Heard, S.B., Remer, L.C. Travel costs, oviposition behaviour and the dynamics of insect–plant systems. Theor Ecol 1, 179–188 (2008). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12080-008-0018-0

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Keywords

  • Density dependence
  • Oviposition behaviour
  • Herbivory
  • Phytophagous insects
  • Population regulation
  • Travel costs