Indirect interaction between two native thistles mediated by an invasive exotic floral herbivore

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Russell, F. Leland
Louda, Svata M.
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Russell, F.L., Louda, S.M. 2005. Indirect interaction between two native thistles mediated by an invasive exotic floral herbivore. Oecologica 146(3):373-384. doi:10.1007/s00442-005-0204-3

Spatial and temporal variation in insect floral herbivory is common and often important. Yet, the determinants of such variation remain incompletely understood. Using 12 years of flowering data and 4 years of biweekly insect counts, we evaluated four hypotheses to explain variation in damage by the Eurasian flower head weevil, Rhinocyllus conicus, to the native North American wavyleaf thistle, Cirsium undulatum. The four factors hypothesized to influence weevil impact were variations in climate, weevil abundance, phenological synchrony, and number of flower heads available, either on wavyleaf thistle or on the other cooccurring, acquired native host plant (Platte thistle, Cirsium canescens), or on both. Climate did not contribute significantly to an explanation of variation in R. conicus damage to wavyleaf thistle. However, climate did influence weevil synchrony with wavyleaf flower head initiation, and phenological synchrony was important in determining R. conicus oviposition levels on wavyleaf thistle. The earlier R. conicus was active, the less it oviposited on wavyleaf thistle, even when weevils were abundant. Neither weevil abundance nor availability of wavyleaf flower heads predicted R. conicus egg load. Instead, the strongest predictor of R. conicus egg load on wavyleaf thistle was the availability of flower heads on Platte thistle, the more common, earlier flowering native thistle in the sand prairie. Egg load on wavyleaf thistle decreased as the number of Platte thistle flower heads at a site increased. Thus, wavyleaf thistle experienced associational defense in the presence of flowering by its now declining native congener, Platte thistle. These results demonstrate that prediction of damage to a native plant by an exotic insect may require knowledge of both likely phenological synchrony and total resource availability to the herbivore, including resources provided by other nontarget native species.

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