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Oecologia. 2003 Jan;134(1):82-7. Epub 2002 Oct 29.

Elevated CO2 lowers relative and absolute herbivore density across all species of a scrub-oak forest.

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Department of Biology, University of South Florida, Tampa, FL 33620-5150, USA.


The unabated increase in global atmospheric CO(2) is expected to induce physiological changes in plants, including reduced foliar nitrogen, which are likely to affect herbivore densities. This study employs a field-based CO(2 )enrichment experiment at Kennedy Space Center, Florida, to examine plant-herbivore (insect) interactions inside eight open-topped chambers with elevated CO(2) (710 ppm) and eight control chambers with ambient CO(2). In elevated CO(2) we found decreased herbivore densities per 100 leaves, especially of leaf miners, across all five plant species we examined: the oak trees Quercus myrtifolia, Q. geminata, and Q. chapmanii, the nitrogen-fixing vine Galactia elliottii and the shrub Vaccinium myrsinites. Both direct and indirect effects of lowered plant nitrogen may influence this decrease in herbivore densities. Direct effects of lowered nitrogen resulted in increased host-plant related death and an increase in compensatory feeding: per capita herbivore leaf consumption in elevated CO(2) was higher than in ambient CO(2). Indirectly, compensatory feeding may have prolonged herbivore development and increased exposure to natural enemies. For all leaf miners we examined, mortality from natural enemies increased in elevated CO(2). These increases in host-plant induced mortality and in attack rates by natural enemies decreased leaf miner survivorship, causing a reduction in leaf miner density per 100 leaves. Despite increased leaf production in elevated CO(2) from the carbon fertilization effect, absolute herbivore abundance per chamber was also reduced in elevated CO(2). Because insects cause premature leaf abscission, we also thought that leaf abscission would be decreased in elevated CO(2). However, for all plant species, leaf abscission was increased in elevated CO(2), suggesting a direct effect of CO(2) on leaf abscission that outweighs the indirect effects of reduced insect densities on leaf abscission.

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