Larval crowding during an insect outbreak reduces herbivory pressure on preferred shrubs in a warmer environment

Javier Gamarra, Terry V. Callaghan, Helena Bylund, Dylan Gwynn-Jones

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With warming climate many species are predicted to shift their distributions toward the poles. However, climate change models developed to predict species distributions do not always incorporate interactions between them. The northerly shift of the boreal forest and associated dwarf shrub communities will be directly affected by warming. But warming will also indirectly affect plant communities via impacts on the intensity and frequency of associated insect outbreaks. We present a general model exploring plant host herbivory in response to the balance between insect crowding, host consumption and climate. We examined how these factors dictate the feeding preference of Epirrita autumnata larvae during an outbreak on dwarf shrub vegetation in Sub-arctic Fennoscandia. Data were collected from an outdoor experiment investigating future climate change scenarios (elevated CO2 and temperature) on the dwarf shrub community that included deciduous (Vaccinium myrtillus) and evergreen species (V. vitis-idaea and Empetrum nigrum). We observed that larval crowding was independent of treatment under outbreak conditions. We also tested and confirmed model predictions that larvae would prefer monospecific stands of either deciduous shrubs or its evergreen competitors. For current climate conditions, larvae had a preference to consume more deciduous shrubs in mixed stands. However, at elevated temperature bilberry consumption and herbivore pressure was lower, particularly in mixed stands. Our results show that during future warming, E. autumnata herbivory could promote the success of thermophile deciduous species and possible northward migration. Insect behaviour and preferences should therefore be considered when predicting future vegetation movements responding to warming
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)180-187
Number of pages8
JournalAgricultural and Forest Meteorology
Early online date29 Aug 2018
Publication statusPublished - 15 Dec 2018


  • climate change
  • gompertz
  • herbivore pressure
  • host plant preference
  • insect outbreaks
  • sub-arctic
  • Climate change
  • Host plant preference
  • Insect outbreaks
  • Sub-arctic
  • Herbivore pressure
  • Gompertz


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