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Chronic dryness and wetness and especially pulsed drought threaten a generalist arthropod herbivore

Abstract

Under climate change, both wetter and drier conditions, as well as an increase in extreme events like floods or droughts are projected for many areas. So far, studies only investigate the impact of drier or wetter conditions at a single stress severity level but do not consider how different intensities and types of changes affect insect herbivores feeding on stressed plants. Further, how effects of acute stress pulses differ from milder, chronic soil moisture stress is unclear. We investigated how changing soil moisture conditions affect a generalist insect herbivore feeding on grassland plants. We transplanted multi-species sections of grassland into pots and subjected them to different intensities and durations of flooding and drying stress. We compared effects of short, extreme drought and flooding pulses against the effects of milder, but chronic stress. Constantly drier conditions decreased plant and herbivore performance at all levels of stress severity. Severe permanent wetness did not affect plant growth, but decreased pupal weight (− 23%) and survival of larvae (− 34%). Extreme pulsed drought exacerbated negative effects of chronic drying, as most larvae died before they could benefit from rewetting plants after the drought (94% mortality). Pulsed flooding did not affect plants or larval development more than chronic severe wetness. Our findings imply that plant stress negatively affects generalist chewing herbivores, even with mixed diets. Both drier and severely wet, but not mildly wetter conditions, will reduce survival of some species. Especially, extreme droughts appear to have strong negative effects on generalist grassland herbivores.

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Acknowledgements

We thank Dr. Axel Mithöfer and Angelika Berg from the Max-Planck-Institute for Chemical Ecology, Jena, Germany for providing eggs of S. littoralis. We further thank our interns Xu Wei, Dominika Krzysztofik and Martin Bartels Awortwe for their support in maintaining and conducting the experiment and the DAAD (IAESTE) for organising their stay with us. This work was funded by the German Research Foundation (Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft; DFG-WA-3442/2-1). All applicable institutional and national guidelines for the care and use of animals were followed.

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Authors and Affiliations

Authors

Contributions

JW conceived and designed the experiments and formulated the idea. BR performed the feeding trials and JW organised the plant experiment. BR and JW analysed the data and contributed equally to writing the manuscript. AMK provided editorial advice to substantially alter and improve the manuscript.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Julia Walter.

Additional information

Communicated by Evan Siemann.

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Rai, B., Klein, A.M. & Walter, J. Chronic dryness and wetness and especially pulsed drought threaten a generalist arthropod herbivore. Oecologia 188, 931–943 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00442-018-4255-7

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s00442-018-4255-7

Keywords

  • Water saturation
  • Pulsed stress
  • Extreme events
  • Grassland
  • Spodoptera littoralis