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Keywords:

  • Aphis nerii;
  • Asclepias tuberosa;
  • density dependence;
  • density manipulation experiment;
  • global change;
  • herbivory;
  • nitrogen deposition;
  • plant quality

Abstract 1. Anthropogenic increases in nitrogen deposition are impacting terrestrial ecosystems worldwide. While some of the direct ecosystem-level effects of nitrogen deposition are understood, the effects of nitrogen deposition on plant–insect interactions and on herbivore population dynamics have received less attention.

2. Nitrogen deposition will potentially influence both plant resource availability and herbivore population growth. If increases in herbivore population growth outstrip increases in resource availability, then increases in the strength of density dependence expressed within the herbivore population would be predicted. Alternatively, if plant resources respond more vigorously to nitrogen deposition than do herbivore populations, a decline in the strength of density dependence would be expected. No change in the strength of density dependence acting upon the herbivore population would suggest equivalent responses by herbivores and plants.

3. A density manipulation experiment was performed to examine the effect of nitrogen deposition on the interaction between a host plant, Asclepias tuberosa, and its herbivore, Aphis nerii. Aphid maximum per capita growth rate (Rmax), carrying capacity (K), and the strength of density dependence were measured under three nitrogen deposition treatments. The effect of nitrogen deposition on the relationship among these three measures of insect population dynamics was explored.

4. Simulated nitrogen deposition increased aphid per capita population growth, plant foliar nitrogen concentrations, and plant biomass. Nitrogen deposition caused Rmax and K to increase proportionally, leading to no overall change in the strength of density dependence. In this system, potential changes in the negative feedback processes operating on herbivore populations following nitrogen deposition appear to be buffered by concomitant changes in resource availability.