The Effect of Plant Inbreeding and Stoichiometry on Interactions with Herbivores in Nature: Echinacea angustifolia and Its Specialist Aphid

Abstract

Fragmentation of once widespread communities may alter interspecific interactions by changing genetic composition of interacting populations as well as their abundances and spatial distributions. In a long-term study of a fragmented population of Echinacea angustifolia, a perennial plant native to the North American prairie, we investigated influences on its interaction with a specialist aphid and tending ants. We grew plant progeny of sib-matings (I), and of random pairings within (W) and between (B) seven remnants in a common field within 8 km of the source remnants. During the fifth growing season, we determined each plant's burden of aphids and ants, as well as its size and foliar elemental composition (C, N, P). We also assayed composition (C, N) of aphids and ants. Early in the season, progeny from genotypic classes B and I were twice as likely to harbor aphids, and in greater abundance, than genotypic class W; aphid loads were inversely related to foliar concentration of P and positively related to leaf N and plant size. At the end of the season, aphid loads were indistinguishable among genotypic classes. Ant abundance tracked aphid abundance throughout the season but showed no direct relationship with plant traits. Through its potential to alter the genotypic composition of remnant populations of Echinacea, fragmentation can increase Echinacea's susceptibility to herbivory by its specialist aphid and, in turn, perturb the abundance and distribution of aphids.

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