Aphid herbivory as a potential driver of primary succession in coastal dunes
Van Moorleghem, Charlotte
Faculty of Sciences. Biology
, p. 89-100
University of Antwerp
Herbivory is a major factor affecting both the performance and the fitness of the species composing a plant community and, ultimately, conditioning its temporal and spatial dynamics. Coastal dunes are a typical example of primary succession where different biotic and abiotic factors determine plant species occurrence; however, the effect of insect herbivory herein has remained little explored. To address this matter, we combined an observational study along a successional gradient with a green-house experiment to determine the occurrence and the impact of plant-aphid interactions. We focused on the species Schizaphis rufula, a widespread and abundant aphid associated with dune grasses in early stages of primary succession in Europe. Firstly, we studied aphid infestation rates on the dune grass Ammophila arenaria along a succession gradient in three locations of the North Sea coast to address the relationship between plant community composition and aphid occurrence; secondly, we tested the effect of aphid herbivory on a set of dune species typical for the different stages of succession. We found that the degree of aphid infestation was inversely correlated with the degree of dune fixation. The results of the experiment showed that aphid multiplication was significantly higher and its effect more pronounced on two early successional grass species, i.e. A. arenaria and Leymus arenarius. Here aphid multiplication resulted in a severe decrease in plant biomass; in late successional grass species, there was limited multiplication and no effect on biomass. The results of the field survey and the green-house experiment indicate that aphids show a clear preference for plants from early successional stages and, moreover, they have a greater impact on these plant species. All this supports the hypothesis of aphid herbivory as a driving factor of primary succession in coastal dunes.