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Species specific plant-mediated effects between herbivores converge at high damage intensity

Cite this dataset

Wan, Jinlong et al. (2021). Species specific plant-mediated effects between herbivores converge at high damage intensity [Dataset]. Dryad.


Plants are often exposed to multiple herbivores and densities of these attackers (or corresponding damage intensities) generally fluctuate greatly in the field. Plant-mediated interactions vary among herbivore species and with changing feeding intensity, but little is known about how herbivore identity and density interact to determine plant responses and herbivore fitness. Here, we investigated this question using Triadica sebifera (tallow) and its two major specialist insect herbivores, Bikasha collaris (flea beetle) and Heterapoderopsis bicallosicollis (weevil). By manipulating densities of leaf-feeding adults of these two insects, we tested how variations in the intensity of leaf damage caused by flea beetle or weevil adults affected the performance of root-feeding flea beetle larvae and evaluated the potential of changed traits of tallow root as predictions of flea beetle larval performance. We found that weevil adults consistently decreased the survival of flea beetle larvae with increasing leaf damage intensities. In contrast, conspecific flea beetle adults increased their larval survival at low damage then decreased larval survival at high damage, resulting in a unimodal pattern. Chemical analyses showed that increasing leaf damage from weevil adults linearly decreased root carbohydrates and increased root tannin, whereas flea beetle adults had opposite effects as weevil adults at low damage and similar effects as them at high damage. Furthermore, across all feeding treatments, flea beetle larval survival was positively correlated with concentrations of carbohydrates and negatively correlated with concentration of tannin, suggesting that root primary and secondary metabolism might underlie observed effects on flea beetle larvae. Our study demonstrates that herbivore identity and density interact to determine systemic plant responses and plant-mediated effects on herbivores. In particular, effects are species specific at low densities, but converge at high densities. These findings emphasize the importance of considering herbivore identity and density simultaneously when identifying factors driving plant-mediated interactions between herbivores, advancing our understanding of the structure and composition of herbivore communities and terrestrial food-webs.