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Oecologia. 2010 Aug;163(4):949-60. doi: 10.1007/s00442-010-1633-1. Epub 2010 Apr 16.

Effects of sap-feeding insect herbivores on growth and reproduction of woody plants: a meta-analysis of experimental studies.

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  • 1Section of Ecology, Department of Biology, University of Turku, 20014 Turku, Finland.


The majority of generalisations concerning plant responses to herbivory are based on studies of natural or simulated defoliation. However, effects caused by insects feeding on plant sap are likely to differ from the effects of folivory. We assessed the general patterns and sources of variation in the effects of sap feeding on growth, photosynthesis, and reproduction of woody plants through a meta-analysis of 272 effect sizes calculated from 52 papers. Sap-feeders significantly reduced growth (-29%), reproduction (-17%), and photosynthesis (-27%); seedlings suffered more than saplings and mature trees. Deciduous and evergreen woody plants did not differ in their abilities to tolerate damage imposed by sap-feeders. Different plant parts, in particular below- and above-ground organs, responded similarly to damage, indicating that sap-feeders did not change the resource allocation in plants. The strongest effects were caused by mesophyll and phloem feeders, and the weakest by xylem feeders. Generalist sap-feeders reduced plant performance to a greater extent than did specialists. Methodology substantially influenced the outcomes of the primary studies; experiments conducted in greenhouses yielded stronger negative effects than field experiments; shorter (<12 months) experiments showed bigger growth reduction in response to sap feeding than longer experiments; natural levels of herbivory caused weaker effects than infestation of experimental plants by sap-feeders. Studies conducted at higher temperatures yielded stronger detrimental effects of sap-feeders on their hosts. We conclude that sap-feeders impose a more severe overall negative impact on plant performance than do defoliators, mostly due to the lower abilities of woody plants to compensate for sap-feeders' damage in terms of both growth and photosynthesis.

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