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Oecologia. 2005 Jul;144(3):416-26. Epub 2005 Sep 16.

Plant population size and isolation affect herbivory of Silene latifolia by the specialist herbivore Hadena bicruris and parasitism of the herbivore by parasitoids.

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Department of Plant Population Biology, Netherlands Institute of Ecology (NIOO-KNAW), Boterhoeksestraat 48, 6666 GA, Heteren, The Netherlands.


Habitat fragmentation can affect levels of herbivory in plant populations if plants and herbivores are differentially affected by fragmentation. Moreover, if herbivores are top-down controlled by predators or parasitoids, herbivory may also be affected by differential effects of fragmentation on herbivores and their natural enemies. We used natural Silene latifolia populations to examine the effects of plant population size and isolation on the level of herbivory by the seed predating noctuid Hadena bicruris and the rate of parasitism of the herbivore by its parasitoids. In addition, we examined oviposition rate, herbivory and parasitism in differently sized experimental populations. In natural populations, the level of herbivory increased and the rate of parasitism decreased with decreasing plant population size and increasing degree of isolation. The number of parasitoid species also declined with decreasing plant population size. In the experimental populations, the level of herbivory was also higher in smaller populations, in accordance with higher oviposition rates, but was not accompanied by lower rates of parasitism. Similarly, oviposition rate and herbivory, but not parasitism rate, increased near the edges of populations. These results suggests that in this system with the well dispersing herbivore H. bicruris, habitat fragmentation increases herbivory of the plant through a behavioural response of the moth that leads to higher oviposition rates in fragmented populations with a reduced population size, increased isolation and higher edge-to-interior ratio. Although the rate of parasitism and the number of parasitoid species declined with decreasing population size in the natural populations, we argue that in this system it is unlikely that this decline made a major contribution to increased herbivory.

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