Associational resistance to both insect and pathogen damage in mixed forests is modulated by tree neighbour identity and drought
Field, Elsa et al. (2020), Associational resistance to both insect and pathogen damage in mixed forests is modulated by tree neighbour identity and drought, Dryad, Dataset, https://doi.org/10.5061/dryad.zw3r2285j
Tree health declines can be caused by interactions between pests and pathogens and many studies have shown a reduction in their damage in mixed species forests compared to monocultures. Yet few authors have considered tree diversity effects on both groups simultaneously. Moreover, it is unclear whether diversity effects on tree pests and pathogens are robust to changes in abiotic conditions, such as drought. We addressed tree diversity effects on foliar insect herbivory, oak powdery mildew and their interaction under contrasting water regimes in a large-scale tree diversity experiment in SW France. Using an irrigation treatment that alleviated drought conditions, we were able to experimentally assess the effects of tree diversity under contrasting abiotic environments. We surveyed plots along a richness gradient from 1 – 4 tree species, in which a focal study species of oak (Q. robur) was mixed with other oak species (Q. pyrenaica and Q. ilex) and a taller, broadleaved species (Betula pendula). Increasing tree species richness lowered leaf miner abundance, leaf chewer damage and oak powdery mildew infection, consistent with a protective effect of resource dilution. However, richness effects on leaf miners were stronger in irrigated compared to non-irrigated blocks, indicating that environmental conditions can modulate diversity effects. Separate from the effect of tree species richness, the presence of birch in a plot increased damage by leaf chewers and powdery mildew, but lowered leaf miner damage, suggesting additional tree neighbour identity effects potentially linked to modulation of microclimate. We found a negative association between leaf miner abundance and oak powdery mildew, consistent with antagonism between oak damage agents. Overall, our study illustrates the importance of considering both tree diversity and composition (neighbour identity) in designing forests more resistant to pest and pathogen damage.