Host plant phenology, insect outbreaks and herbivore communities – The importance of timing


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Abstract

Climate change may alter the dynamics of outbreak species by changing the phenological synchrony between herbivores and their host plants. As host plant phenology has a genotypic component that may interact with climate, infestation levels among genotypes might change accordingly. When the outbreaking herbivore is active early in the season, its infestation levels may also leave a detectable imprint on herbivores colonizing the plant later in the season.In this study, we first investigated how the spring phenology and genotype of Quercus robur influenced the density of the spring-active, outbreaking leaf miner Acrocercops brongniardellus. We then assessed how intraspecific density affected the performance of A. brongniardellus and how oak genotype and density of A. brongniardellus affected the insect herbivore community.We found that Q. robur individuals of late spring phenology were more strongly infested by A. brongniardellus. Conspecific pupae on heavily infested oaks tended to be lighter, and fewer heterospecific insect herbivores colonized the oak later in the season. Beyond its effects through phenology, plant genotype left an imprint on herbivore species richness and on two insect herbivores.Our results suggest a chain of knock-on effects from plant phenology, through the outbreaking species to the insect herbivore community. Given the finding of how phenological synchrony between the outbreak species and its host plant influences infestation levels, a shift in synchrony may then change outbreak dynamics and cause cascading effects on the insect community.This study demonstrates how phenological synchrony between a leaf mining, outbreaking herbivore and its host plant influences outbreak densities, the performance of the herbivore itself and the presence of other insect herbivores.

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