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Impact of plant architecture versus leaf quality on attack by leaf-tying caterpillars on five oak species

Marquis, Robert J., Lill, John T.
Oecologia 2010 v.163 no.1 pp. 203-213
Quercus alba, branches, community structure, correlation, host plants, larvae, leaf area, leaf extracts, leaves, nitrogen, nitrogen content, phytophagous insects, plant architecture, probability, sympatry, Missouri
Because shelter-building herbivorous insect species often consider structural features of their host plants in selecting construction sites, their probability of attack is likely to be a function of some combination of plant architectural traits and leaf quality factors. We tested the hypothesis that plant architecture, in the form of the number of touching leaves, influences interspecific variation in attack by leaf-tying caterpillars in five species of sympatric Missouri oaks (Quercus). We compared colonization on control branches, in which both architecture and leaf quality were potentially important, with colonization on experimental branches for which we controlled for the effects of architecture by creating equal numbers of artificial ties. Colonization of artificial ties was highly correlated with natural colonization on neighboring control branches, suggesting that leaf quality factors and not architecture influenced interspecific variation in attack by leaf-tying caterpillars. Of the leaf quality factors measured (water, protein-binding capacity, nitrogen, specific leaf area, pubescence, and toughness), nitrogen was the most explanatory. With the exception of white oak, natural leaf tie colonization was positively correlated with nitrogen availability (ratio of nitrogen to protein-binding capacity), and negatively correlated with protein-binding capacity of leaf extracts. Both host plant species and subgenus oak influenced the community composition of leaf-tying caterpillars and the non-tying symbionts colonizing the ties. Host plant differences in leaf nitrogen content were positively correlated with pupal weight of one of two caterpillar species reared on all five host plant species. Thus, interspecific differences in nitrogen, nitrogen availability, and protein-binding capacity of leaf extracts are the best predictors at this time of interspecific differences in attack by leaf-tying caterpillars, in turn affecting their success on individual host plants in the laboratory.