Abundance and diversity of birch-feeding leafminers along latitudinal gradients in northern Europe


M. V. Kozlov, Section of Ecology, Dept of Biology, Univ. of Turku, FI-20014 Turku, Finland. E-mail: mikoz@utu.fi


Latitudinal patterns in biotic interactions, including herbivory, have been widely debated during the past years. In particular, recent meta-analysis questioned the hypothesis that herbivory increases from the poles towards the equator. Our study was designed to verify this hypothesis by exploring latitudinal patterns in abundance and diversity of birch-feeding insect herbivores belonging to the leafminer guild in northern Europe, from 59° to 69°N. We collected branches from five mature trees of two birch species (Betula pendula and B. pubescens) at each study site (ten sites for each of five latitudinal gradients) twice per season (in early and late summer of 2008–2011) and attributed all mines found on leaves of these branches to a certain taxon of insects. Latitudinal patterns were quantified by calculating Spearman rank correlation coefficients between both abundance and diversity of leafmining taxa and latitudes of sampling sites. In general, both abundance and diversity of leafminers significantly decreased with latitude. However, we discovered pronounced variation in patterns of latitudinal changes among study years and leafminer taxa. Variation among study years was best explained by mean temperatures in July at the northern ends of our gradients. During cold years, abundance of leafminers significantly decreased with latitude, while during warm years the abundance was either independent of latitude or even increased towards the pole. In the northern boreal forests (66° to 69°N), herbivores demonstrated larger changes in densities in response to temperature variations than in the boreo-nemoral forests (59° to 62°N). Our data suggest that climate warming will result in a stronger increase in herbivory at higher latitudes than at lower latitudes.