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Biol Lett. 2009 Oct 23;5(5):603-5. doi: 10.1098/rsbl.2009.0372. Epub 2009 Jun 17.

Life-history strategies affect aphid preference for yellowing leaves.

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  • 1Department of Environmental Science, University of Kuopio, PO Box 1627, 70211 Kuopio, Finland.


According to the nutrient-translocation hypothesis, yellowing tree leaves are colonized by aphids at the end of the growing season owing to improved availability of nutrients in the phloem sap after chlorophyll degradation. We measured aphid densities on potted Betula pendula seedlings in a field site where a small proportion of foliage rapidly turned yellow before normal autumn coloration as a consequence of root anoxia. The number of adults and nymphs of the birch-feeding specialist aphids Euceraphis betulae, Betulaphis brevipilosa and Callipterinella tuberculata were counted from leaves on each of the 222 plants. Aphids were detected on 19 per cent of green leaves and on 41 per cent of yellow leaves. There was no indication of aphid avoidance of yellow leaves, and the number of winged (alate) viviparous E. betulae adults and their nymphs were significantly higher on yellow leaves than on green leaves, while the numbers of apterous B. brevipilosa and C. tuberculata did not differ between the leaf colour types. Our result suggests that only aphid species with alate generation during colour change can take advantage of yellowing leaves. This may explain the exceptional abundance of E. betulae compared with other aphid species on birches.

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