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Keywords:

  • Acyrthosiphon pisum;
  • aphids;
  • Aphis nerii;
  • Aphis oenotherae;
  • Aulacorthum solani;
  • climate change;
  • CO2;
  • herbivory;
  • Myzus persicae

Abstract

We investigated interactions between five species of phloem-feeding aphids (Homoptera: Aphididae) and their host plants at elevated CO2; Acyrthosiphon pisum (Harris) on Vicia faba L., Aphis nerii Boyer de Fonscolombe on Asclepias syriaca L., Aphis oenotherae Oestlund on Oenothera biennis L., Aulacorthum solani (Kaltenbach) on Nicotiana sylvestris Speg. & Comes and Myzus persicae (Sulzer) on Solanum dulcamara L. Host plants grown at elevated CO2 generally had greater biomass, leaf area and C:N ratios than those grown at ambient CO2, while plants with aphids had lower biomass and leaf area than those without aphids.

The responses of aphid populations to elevated CO2 were species-specific with one species increasing (M. persicae), one decreasing (A. pisum), and the other three being unaffected. CO2 treatment did not affect the proportion of alate individuals produced. In general, aphid abundance was not significantly related to foliar nitrogen concentration.

We performed separate analyses to test whether either aphid presence or aphid abundance modified the response of host plants to elevated CO2. In terms of aphid presence, only three of the potential 15 interactions (five aphid species x three plant traits) were significant; A. solani slightly modified the response of the plant biomass to elevated CO2 and M. persicae affected the response of leaf area and allocation. In terms of aphid abundance, only two of the potential 15 interactions were significant with A. nerii modifying the plant response to CO2 in terms of total leaf area and allocation.

We conclude that, in contrast to other insect groups such as leaf chewers, populations of most phloem-feeders may not be negatively affected by increased CO2 concentrations in the future. The reasons for this difference include the possibility that aphids may be able to compensate for changes in host plant quality by altering feeding behaviour or by synthesizing amino acids. In addition, there is little evidence that aphid herbivory, even at high levels, will substantially modify the response of plants to elevated CO2.