Host tree architecture mediates the effect of predators on herbivore survival


Janne Riihimäki, Section of Ecology, Department of Biology, University of Turku, FIN-20014 Turku, Finland. E-mail:


Abstract 1. Vegetation structural complexity is an important factor influencing ecological interactions between different trophic levels. In order to investigate relationships between the architecture of trees, the presence of arthropod predators, and survival and parasitism of the autumnal moth Epirrita autumnata Borkhausen, two sets of experiments were conducted.

2. In one experiment, the architectural complexity of mountain birch was manipulated to separate the effects of plant structure and age. In the other experiment the trees were left intact, but chosen to represent varying degrees of natural complexity. Young autumnal moth larvae were placed on the trees and their survival was monitored during the larval period.

3. The larvae survived longer in more complex trees if predation by ants was prevented with a glue ring, whereas in control trees smaller canopy size improved survival times in one experiment. The density of ants observed in the trees was not affected by canopy size but spider density was higher on smaller trees. The effect of canopy structure on larval parasitism was weak; larger canopy size decreased parasitism only in one year. Until the fourth instar the larvae travelled shorter distances in trees with reduced branchiness than in trees with reduced foliage or control treatments. Canopy structure manipulation by pruning did not alter the quality of leaves as food for larvae.

4. The effect of canopy structure on herbivore survival may depend on natural enemy abundance and foraging strategy. In complex canopies herbivores are probably better able to escape predation by ambushing spiders but not by actively searching ants.