Delayed local responses of downy birch to damage by leafminers and leafrollers

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Recent findings suggest that impacts of endemic herbivory on forest ecosystems over the long term may exceed impacts of herbivore outbreaks. However, responses of trees to minor and local damage imposed by small arthropod herbivores, especially by those mining or skeletonising individual leaves, remain poorly understood. We studied the delayed effects of injuries by several leafmining and leafrolling insects on the performance of downy birch shoots. Insect feeding did not affect survival of shoots or survival of individual axillary buds in long shoots. In the year following the damage, shoots produced an average of 13.8% more biomass than undamaged shoots of the same tree. The magnitude of this effect increased with an increase in the leaf area injured during the previous year, but it did not differ among four localities in subarctic and boreo-nemoral forests, between herbivore feeding guilds, or among herbivores imposing damage in early, mid and late summer. We also found that herbivores attacked the next-year foliage produced by damaged shoots less frequently than they attacked the next-year foliage produced by undamaged shoots of the same tree. Thus, our study demonstrated delayed local compensatory growth and increased antiherbivore defence in downy birch shoots following local damage by insect feeding. We suggest that this pattern reflects evolutionary adaptations of plants to permanently acting minor, dispersed and spatially unpredictable damage imposed by endemic herbivory. Local responses are less costly and represent a more sustainable strategy to maintain plant fitness under low levels of herbivory than constitutive resistance or systemic responses.

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