Genetic-based susceptibility of a foundation tree to herbivory interacts with climate to influence arthropod community composition, diversity, and resilience

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Understanding how genetic-based traits of plants interact with climate to affect associated communities will help improve predictions of climate change impacts on biodiversity. However, few community-level studies have addressed such interactions. Pinyon pine (Pinus edulis) in the southwestern U.S. shows genetic-based resistance and susceptibility to pinyon needle scale (Matsucoccus acalyptus). We sought to determine if susceptibility to scale herbivory influenced the diversity and composition of the extended community of 250+ arthropod species, and if this influence would be consistent across consecutive years, an extreme drought year followed by a moderate drought year. Because scale insects alter the architecture of susceptible trees, it is difficult to separate the direct influences of susceptibility on arthropod communities from the indirect influences of scale-altered tree architecture. To separate these influences, scales were experimentally excluded from susceptible trees for 15 years creating susceptible trees with the architecture of resistant trees, hereafter referred to as scale-excluded trees. Five patterns emerged. (1) In both years, arthropod abundance was 3-4X lower on susceptible trees compared to resistant and scale-excluded trees. (2) Species accumulation curves show that alpha and gamma diversity were 2-3X lower on susceptible trees compared to resistant and scale-excluded trees. (3) Reaction norms of arthropod richness and abundance on individual tree genotypes across years showed genotypic variation in the community response to changes in climate. (4) The genetic-based influence of susceptibility on arthropod community composition is climate dependent. During extreme drought, community composition on scale-excluded trees resembled susceptible trees indicating composition was strongly influenced by tree genetics independent of tree architecture. However, under moderate drought, community composition on scale-excluded trees resembled resistant trees indicating traits associated with tree architecture became more important. (5) One year after extreme drought, the arthropod community rebounded sharply. However, there was a much greater rebound in richness and abundance on resistant compared to susceptible trees suggesting that reduced resiliency in the arthropod community is associated with susceptibility. These results argue that individual genetic-based plant-herbivore interactions can directly and indirectly impact community-level diversity, which is modulated by climate. Understanding such interactions is important for assessing the impacts of climate change on biodiversity.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number1831
JournalAdvances in Intelligent Systems and Computing
StatePublished - Jan 1 2018



  • Arthropod community
  • Climate change
  • Community resilience
  • Direct and indirect genetic effects
  • Drought
  • Herbivore resistance and susceptibility
  • Pinyon needle scale
  • Pinyon pine

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Control and Systems Engineering
  • Computer Science(all)

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