1. Air pollution might have differential effects on herbivores and their natural enemies, thus changing population dynamics. Therefore, from 1993 to 1998 we studied mortality caused by parasitoids and predators to the willow-feeding leaf beetle Melasoma lapponica in the impact zone of the Severonikel nickel–copper smelter (Kola Peninsula, north-western Russia).
2. Densities of M. lapponica were very low at clean forest sites (below five beetles per 10-min count) but higher in polluted areas (10–340 beetles per count). There were, however, variations between study years.
3. Egg predation, mainly by syrphid larvae and zoophagous bugs, was higher at relatively clean sites (55·3%) than at polluted sites (22·2%). Similarly, predation on larvae by zoophagous bugs and wood ants was higher at clean sites (68·4%) than at polluted sites (32·9%).
4. In contrast to predation, mortality caused by the parasitoid flies Megaselia opacicornis (Phoridae) and Cleonice nitidiuscula (Tachinidae) was lower at clean sites (12·3%) than at polluted sites (35·3%). Total parasitism levels increased significantly with pollution load.
5. Total mortality caused by natural enemies was higher at clean sites (93·7%) than at polluted sites (79·4%) due to higher predation rates, which may partly explain increased leaf beetle density within the smelter's impact zone. The effects of predators in clean forests were confirmed by the extinction of adults of M. lapponica introduced to one of the forest sites.
6. Although some individual sources of mortality appeared to be density dependent (direct or inverse), the joint effect of all natural enemies was not.
7. Our data show that a decrease in predation can contribute to increased leaf beetle density at polluted sites. However, the overall effects of natural enemies in this case were not sufficient to account for all density variations between sites. To our knowledge this is the first study to assess how pollution affects the partitioning of mortality in herbivorous insects between predators and parasitoids.