Beneficial effects of solar UV-B radiation on soybean yield mediated by reduced insect herbivory under field conditions



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Ultraviolet-B radiation (UV-B: 280–315 nm) has damaging effects on cellular components and macromolecules. In plants, natural levels of UV-B can reduce leaf area expansion and growth, which can lead to reduced productivity and yield. UV-B can also have important effects on herbivorous insects. Owing to the successful implementation of the Montreal Protocol, current models predict that clear-sky levels of UV-B radiation will decline during this century in response to ozone recovery. However, because of climate change and changes in land use practices, future trends in UV doses are difficult to predict. In the experiments reported here, we used an exclusion approach to study the effects of solar UV-B radiation on soybean crops, which are extensively grown in many areas of the world that may be affected by future variations in UV-B radiation. In a first experiment, performed under normal management practices (which included chemical pest control), we found that natural levels of UV-B radiation reduced soybean yield. In a second experiment, where no pesticides were applied, we found that solar UV-B significantly reduced insect herbivory and, surprisingly, caused a concomitant increase in crop yield. Our data support the idea that UV-B effects on agroecosystems are the result of complex interactions involving multiple trophic levels. A better understanding of the mechanisms that mediate the anti-herbivore effect of UV-B radiation may be used to design crop varieties with improved adaptation to the cropping systems that are likely to prevail in the coming decades in response to agricultural intensification.