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Impact of Two Specialist Insect Herbivores on Reproduction of Horse Nettle, Solanum carolinense

Michael J. Wise and Christopher F. Sacchi
Oecologia
Vol. 108, No. 2 (1996), pp. 328-337
Published by: Springer in cooperation with International Association for Ecology
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/4221422
Page Count: 10
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Impact of Two Specialist Insect Herbivores on Reproduction of Horse Nettle, Solanum carolinense
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Abstract

The frequency of coevolution as a process of strong mutual interaction between a single plant and herbivore species has been questioned in light of more commonly observed, complex relationships between a plant and a suite of herbivore species. Despite recognition of the possibility of diffuse coevolution, relatively few studies have examined ecological responses of plants to herbivores in complex associations. We studied the impact of two specialist herbivores, the horse nettle beetle, Leptinotarsa juncta, and the eggplant flea beetle, Epitrix fuscula, on reproduction of their host, Solanum carolinense. Our study involved field and controlled-environment experimental tests of the impact on sexual and potential asexual reproduction of attack by individuals of the two herbivore species, individually and in combination. Field tests demonstrated that under normal levels of phytophagous insect attack, horse nettle plants experienced a reduction in fruit production of more than 75% compared with plants from which insects were excluded. In controlled-environment experiments using enclosure-exclosure cages, the horse nettle's two principal herbivores, the flea beetle and the horse nettle beetle, caused decreases in sexual reproduction similar to those observed in the field, and a reduction in potential asexual reproduction, represented by root biomass. Attack by each herbivore reduced the numbers of fruits produced, and root growth, when feeding in isolation. When both species were feeding together, fruit production, but not root growth, was lower than when either beetle species fed alone. Ecological interactions between horse nettle and its two primary herbivores necessary for diffuse coevolution to occur were evident from an overall analysis of the statistical interactions between the two herbivores for combined assessment of fruit and vegetative traits. For either of these traits alone, the interactions necessary to promote diffuse coevolution apparently were lacking.

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