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Keywords:

  • arthropod;
  • carbon content;
  • global change;
  • herbivory;
  • leaf nitrogen;
  • leaf phenolic content;
  • specific leaf area (SLA)

Summary

  • • 
    By altering foliage quality, exposure to elevated levels of atmospheric CO2 potentially affects the amount of herbivore damage experienced by plants.
  • • 
    Here, we quantified foliar carbon (C) and nitrogen (N) content, C : N ratio, phenolic levels, specific leaf area (SLA) and the amount of leaf tissue damaged by chewing insects for 12 hardwood tree species grown in plots exposed to elevated CO2 (ambient plus 200 µl l−1) using free-air CO2 enrichment (FACE) over 3 yr.
  • • 
    The effects of elevated CO2 varied considerably by year and across species. Elevated CO2 decreased herbivore damage across 12 species in 1 yr but had no detectable effect in others. Decreased damage may have been related to lower average foliar N concentration and SLA and increased C : N ratio and phenolic content for some species under elevated compared with ambient CO2. It remains unclear how these changes in leaf properties affect herbivory.
  • • 
    Damage to the leaves of hardwood trees by herbivorous insects may be reduced in the future as the concentration of CO2 continues to increase, perhaps altering the trophic structure of forest ecosystems.