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Enriched atmospheric CO2 and defoliation: effects on tree chemistry and insect performance


Sherry Roth, tel +1/608–262–4319, fax +1/608–262–3322, e-mail


We examined the effects of CO2 and defoliation on tree chemistry and performance of the forest tent caterpillar, Malacosoma disstria. Quaking aspen (Populus tremuloides) and sugar maple (Acer saccharum) trees were grown in open-top chambers under ambient or elevated concentrations of CO2. During the second year of growth, half of the trees were exposed to free-feeding forest tent caterpillars, while the remaining trees served as nondefoliated controls. Foliage was collected weekly for phytochemical analysis. Insect performance was evaluated on foliage from each of the treatments. At the sampling date coincident with insect bioassays, levels of foliar nitrogen and starch were lower and higher, respectively, in high CO2 foliage, and this trend persisted throughout the study. CO2-mediated increases in secondary compounds were observed for condensed tannins in aspen and gallotannins in maple. Defoliation reduced levels of water and nitrogen in aspen but had no effect on primary metabolites in maple. Similarly, defoliation induced accumulations of secondary compounds in aspen but not in maple. Larvae fed foliage from the enriched CO2 or defoliated treatments exhibited reduced growth and food processing efficiencies, relative to larvae on ambient CO2 or nondefoliated diets, but the patterns were host species-specific. Overall, CO2 and defoliation appeared to exert independent effects on foliar chemistry and forest tent caterpillar performance.