Urban warming trumps natural enemy regulation of herbivorous pests


  • Corresponding Editor: J. M. Marzluff.


Trees provide ecosystem services that counter negative effects of urban habitats on human and environmental health. Unfortunately, herbivorous arthropod pests are often more abundant on urban than rural trees, reducing tree growth, survival, and ecosystem services. Previous research where vegetation complexity was reduced has attributed elevated urban pest abundance to decreased regulation by natural enemies. However, reducing vegetation complexity, particularly the density of overstory trees, also makes cities hotter than natural habitats. We ask how urban habitat characteristics influence an abiotic factor, temperature, and a biotic factor, natural enemy abundance, in regulating the abundance of an urban forest pest, the gloomy scale, (Melanaspis tenebricosa). We used a map of surface temperature to select red maple trees (Acer rubrum) at warmer and cooler sites in Raleigh, North Carolina, USA. We quantified habitat complexity by measuring impervious surface cover, local vegetation structural complexity, and landscape scale vegetation cover around each tree. Using path analysis, we determined that impervious surface (the most important habitat variable) increased scale insect abundance by increasing tree canopy temperature, rather than by reducing natural enemy abundance or percent parasitism. As a mechanism for this response, we found that increasing temperature significantly increases scale insect fecundity and contributes to greater population increase. Specifically, adult female M. tenebricosa egg sets increased by approximately 14 eggs for every 1°C increase in temperature. Climate change models predict that the global climate will increase by 2–3°C in the next 50–100 years, which we found would increase scale insect abundance by three orders of magnitude. This result supports predictions that urban and natural forests will face greater herbivory in the future, and suggests that a primary cause could be direct, positive effects of warming on herbivore fitness rather than altered trophic interactions.