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Ecol Lett. 2018 Jan;21(1):138-150. doi: 10.1111/ele.12874. Epub 2017 Nov 2.

Bottom-up vs. top-down effects on terrestrial insect herbivores: a meta-analysis.

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Department of Biological Sciences, University of Denver, Denver, CO, USA.


Primary consumers are under strong selection from resource ('bottom-up') and consumer ('top-down') controls, but the relative importance of these selective forces is unknown. We performed a meta-analysis to compare the strength of top-down and bottom-up forces on consumer fitness, considering multiple predictors that can modulate these effects: diet breadth, feeding guild, habitat/environment, type of bottom-up effects, type of top-down effects and how consumer fitness effects are measured. We focused our analyses on the most diverse group of primary consumers, herbivorous insects, and found that in general top-down forces were stronger than bottom-up forces. Notably, chewing, sucking and gall-making herbivores were more affected by top-down than bottom-up forces, top-down forces were stronger than bottom-up in both natural and controlled (cultivated) environments, and parasitoids and predators had equally strong top-down effects on insect herbivores. Future studies should broaden the scope of focal consumers, particularly in understudied terrestrial systems, guilds, taxonomic groups and top-down controls (e.g. pathogens), and test for more complex indirect community interactions. Our results demonstrate the surprising strength of forces exerted by natural enemies on herbivorous insects, and thus the necessity of using a tri-trophic approach when studying insect-plant interactions.


Bottom-up; fitness; herbivorous insects; host-plant quality; meta-analysis; natural enemies; parasitoid; predator; top-down

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