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Oecologia. 2005 Jan;142(2):191-201. Epub 2004 Oct 5.

Growth and reproduction of the alpine grasshopper Miramella alpina feeding on CO2-enriched dwarf shrubs at treeline.

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  • 1Institute of Botany, University of Basel, Schönbeinstrasse 6, 4056 Basel, Switzerland.


The consequences for plant-insect interactions of atmospheric changes in alpine ecosystems are not well understood. Here, we tested the effects of elevated CO(2) on leaf quality in two dwarf shrub species (Vaccinium myrtillus and V. uliginosum) and the response of the alpine grasshopper (Miramella alpina) feeding on these plants in a field experiment at the alpine treeline (2,180 m a.s.l.) in Davos, Switzerland. Relative growth rates (RGR) of M. alpina nymphs were lower when they were feeding on V. myrtillus compared to V. uliginosum, and were affected by elevated CO(2) depending on plant species and nymph developmental stage. Changes in RGR correlated with CO(2)-induced changes in leaf water, nitrogen, and starch concentrations. Elevated CO(2) resulted in reduced female adult weight irrespective of plant species, and prolonged development time on V. uliginosum only, but there were no significant differences in nymphal mortality. Newly molted adults of M. alpina produced lighter eggs and less secretion (serving as egg protection) under elevated CO(2). When grasshoppers had a choice among four different plant species grown either under ambient or elevated CO(2), V. myrtillus and V. uliginosum consumption increased under elevated CO(2) in females while it decreased in males compared to ambient CO(2)-grown leaves. Our findings suggest that rising atmospheric CO(2) distinctly affects leaf chemistry in two important dwarf shrub species at the alpine treeline, leading to changes in feeding behavior, growth, and reproduction of the most important insect herbivore in this system. Changes in plant-grasshopper interactions might have significant long-term impacts on herbivore pressure, community dynamics and ecosystem stability in the alpine treeline ecotone.

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