Aim The strength of consumer–plant interactions may decrease with latitude. Our objectives were to assess the spatial variation in folivory on Nothofagus pumilio and understand the influence of climate on folivory patterns as mediated by changes in folivore density and leaf traits.
Location Nothofagus pumilio forests, between 38 and 55°S (Argentina).
Methods We studied the correlation of leaf damage with latitude on data from 47 sampling sites, and evaluated spatial patterns of autocorrelation on latitudinally detrended data with a principal coordinates of neighbour matrices method. Path analysis was used to test the association of temperature and precipitation with leaf damage, mediated by folivore density and leaf traits. We evaluated the adequacy of this ecological model by examining the spatial pattern of autocorrelation in the residuals, and combined spatial and environmental predictors of leaf damage into partial regression.
Results Leaf damage decreased with latitude, which was the only significant spatial predictor. The latitudinal decrease in temperature and precipitation was correlated with a decrease in the density of folivores and leaf size, and diminished leaf damage. Our ecological model adequately explained the spatial autocorrelation in the data: 44% of the variation in leaf damage was explained by the latitudinally structured component of the environment, whereas local environmental effects accounted for another 22%.
Main conclusions We conclude that N. pumilio forests show consistent latitudinal patterns of variation in folivory, folivore density and leaf traits. Our study suggests that the latitudinal variation in folivory rates is partly driven by the influence of climate on both plants and herbivores. This warns us about the potential susceptibility of folivory rates to climate warming. We emphasize the value of large-scale analyses as complementary to local experimental approaches to understanding the regulation of herbivory.