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Preference and performance of Lepidoptera varies with tree age in juniper woodlands

Pardikes, Nicholas A., Forister, Matthew L., Dyer, Lee A.
Ecological entomology 2019 v.44 no.1 pp. 140-150
Callophrys, Glena, Juniperus osteosperma, butterflies, chemical constituents of plants, conifers, herbivores, hosts, insect larvae, intraspecific variation, landscapes, leaves, ontogeny, oviposition, population dynamics, tree age, trees, woodlands, North America
1. As trees age, they undergo significant physiological and morphological changes. Nevertheless, tree ontogeny and its impacts on herbivores are often overlooked as determinants of plant–herbivore population dynamics and the strength of plant–herbivore interactions. 2. Juniperus (Cupressaceae) is a dominant, long‐lived conifer that serves as the sole host to a specialised assemblage of caterpillars. Over the past 150 years, several juniper species in western North America have expanded their geographic occupancy at local and regional scales, which has resulted in an increase in the number of immature trees on the landscape. Using assays in the laboratory, the effects of tree ontogeny on caterpillar performance and oviposition preference for two juniper specialist caterpillars, Callophrys gryneus (Lycaenidae) and Glena quinquelinearia (Geometridae), were examined. The study considered whether responses to tree ontogeny were consistent across caterpillar species and juniper host species. 3. Tree age was found to be a reliable predictor of caterpillar performance, with caterpillars developing more quickly and growing larger when fed foliage from young trees. Differences in the phytochemical diversity between foliage from trees of different ages might help to explain observed differences in caterpillar performance. Interestingly, the specialist butterfly, C. gryneus, displayed an oviposition preference for foliage from old‐growth Juniperus osteosperma trees, despite the fact that larvae of this species performed poorly on older trees. 4. It is concluded that young juniper trees are an important resource for the specialised Lepidopteran community and that tree ontogeny is an important component of intraspecific variation, which contributes to the structure of plant–herbivore communities.