Leaf herbivory by insects during summer reduces overwinter browsing by moose

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Background: Damage to plants by herbivores potentially affects the quality and quantity of the plant tissue available to other herbivore taxa that utilize the same host plants at a later time. This study addresses the indirect effects of insect herbivores on mammalian browsers, a particularly poorly-understood class of interactions. Working in the Alaskan boreal forest, we investigated the indirect effects of insect damage to Salix interior leaves during the growing season on the consumption of browse by moose during winter, and on quantity and quality of browse production. Results: Treatment with insecticide reduced leaf mining damage by the willow leaf blotch miner, Micrurapteryx salicifoliella, and increased both the biomass and proportion of the total production of woody tissue browsed by moose. Salix interior plants with experimentally-reduced insect damage produced significantly more stem biomass than controls, but did not differ in stem quality as indicated by nitrogen concentration or protein precipitation capacity, an assay of the protein-binding activity of tannins. Conclusions: Insect herbivory on Salix, including the outbreak herbivore M. salicifoliella, affected the feeding behavior of moose. The results demonstrate that even moderate levels of leaf damage by insects can have surprisingly strong impacts on stem production and influence the foraging behavior of distantly related taxa browsing on woody tissue months after leaves have dropped.




Allman, B. P., Kielland, K., & Wagner, D. (2018). Leaf herbivory by insects during summer reduces overwinter browsing by moose. BMC Ecology, 18(1). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12898-018-0192-x

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