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Echinacea angustifolia and its specialist ant‐tended aphid: a multi‐year study of manipulated and naturally‐occurring aphid infestation
- MULLER, KATHERINE E., WAGENIUS, STUART
- Ecological entomology 2016 v.41 no.1 pp. 51-60
- Aphis (Aphididae), Echinacea angustifolia, field experimentation, herbivores, observational studies, perennials
- 1. The impact of herbivores on plant fitness depends on multiple ecological mechanisms, including interactions between herbivore guilds. 2. This study assessed the effects of a specialist aphid (Aphis echinaceae) on performance and foliar herbivore damage of a long‐lived perennial plant (Echinacea angustifolia) native to the North American tallgrass prairie. A 2‐year field experiment manipulating aphid infestation on 100 plants was compared with concurrent and past observations of unmanipulated plants in the same outdoor experimental plot. Because ants co‐occur with aphids, the experiment tested the combined effects of aphids and ants. 3. Neither manipulated nor naturally‐occurring aphid infestations led to measurable declines in plant performance. Results for foliar herbivore damage differed between experimental and observational studies: the occurrence of foliar herbivore damage decreased with aphid infestation in the first year of the experiment and increased with aphid infestation over 5 years in unmanipulated plants. 4. While the experimental results concur with other experiments of ant–hemipteran–herbivore relationships, the observational results suggest that ant–aphid interactions do not naturally play a major role in determining patterns of foliar herbivory in this system. This result demonstrates the value of using field observations to interpret the relevance of experimental results.