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Community‐level plant palatability increases with elevation as insect herbivore abundance declines

  • Descombes, Patrice Unit of Ecology and Evolution, University of Fribourg, Switzerland - Landscape Ecology, Institute of Terrestrial Ecosystems, ETH Zürich, Switzerland - Swiss Federal Research Institute WSL, Birmensdorf, Switzerland
  • Marchon, Jérémy Unit of Ecology and Evolution, University of Fribourg, Switzerland
  • Pradervand, Jean-Nicolas Department of Ecology and Evolution, University of Lausanne, Switzerland
  • Bilat, Julia Unit of Ecology and Evolution, University of Fribourg, Switzerland
  • Guisan, Antoine Department of Ecology and Evolution, University of Lausanne, Switzerland - Institute of Earth Surface Dynamics, University of Lausanne, Switzerland
  • Rasmann, Sergio Laboratory of Functional Ecology, Institute of Biology, University of Neuchâtel, Switzerland
  • Pellissier, Loïc Landscape Ecology, Institute of Terrestrial Ecosystems, ETH Zürich, Switzerland
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    01.01.2017
Published in:
  • Journal of Ecology. - 2017, vol. 105, no. 1, p. 142–151
English Plants protect themselves against herbivore attacks through a myriad of physical structures and toxic secondary metabolites. Together with abiotic factors, herbivores are expected to modulate plant defence strategies within plant assemblages. Because the abundance of insect herbivore decreases in colder environments, the palatability of plants in communities at higher elevation should shift in response to both abiotic and biotic factors.We inventoried grasshopper communities to document changes in herbivore abundance along elevation gradients and quantified associated shifts in plant palatability. We measured plant palatability by measuring the growth of Spodoptera littoralis generalist caterpillars fed with the leaves of 172 plant species. We related plant palatability to leaf traits and elevation at the species and community levels.In congruence with the decrease in grasshopper abundance with elevation, we found that the mean palatability level of plant communities increases with elevation. In addition, plant palatability was negatively associated with the community-weighted mean of leaf dry matter content. At the species level, plants with high carbon-to-nitrogen ratio were less palatable, while we found no effect of species mean elevation on plant palatability.Synthesis. Our results suggest that plant communities at higher elevation are composed of species that are generally more palatable for insect herbivores. Shift in plant palatability with elevation may thus be the outcome of a relaxation of the in situ herbivore pressure and changes in abiotic conditions.
Faculty
Faculté des sciences et de médecine
Department
Département de Biologie
Language
  • English
Classification
Biological sciences
License
License undefined
Identifiers
Persistent URL
https://folia.unifr.ch/unifr/documents/305254
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