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Concept: Herbivore


Plant-based diets have been recommended to reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes (T2D). However, not all plant foods are necessarily beneficial. We examined the association of an overall plant-based diet and hypothesized healthful and unhealthful versions of a plant-based diet with T2D incidence in three prospective cohort studies in the US.

Concepts: Herbivore, Insulin, Diabetes mellitus, Epidemiology, Obesity, Diabetes mellitus type 2, Nutrition


BACKGROUND: Biodiversity loss and species invasions are among the most important human-induced global changes. Moreover, these two processes are interlinked as ecosystem invasibility is considered to increase with decreasing biodiversity. In temperate grasslands, earthworms serve as important ecosystem engineers making up the majority of soil faunal biomass. Herbivore behaviour has been shown to be affected by earthworms, however it is unclear whether these effects differ with the composition of plant communities. To test this we conducted a mesocosm experiment where we added earthworms (Annelida: Lumbricidae) to planted grassland communities with different plant species composition (3 vs. 12 plant spp.). Plant communities had equal plant densities and ratios of the functional groups grasses, non-leguminous forbs and legumes. Later, Arion vulgaris slugs (formerly known as A. lusitanicus; Gastropoda: Arionidae) were added and allowed to freely choose among the available plant species. This slug species is listed among the 100 worst alien species in Europe. We hypothesized that (i) the food choice of slugs would be altered by earthworms' specific effects on the growth and nutrient content of plant species, (ii) slug herbivory will be less affected by earthworms in plant communities containing more plant species than in those with fewer plant species because of a more readily utilization of plant resources making the impacts of earthworms less pronounced. RESULTS: Slug herbivory was significantly affected by both earthworms and plant species composition. Slugs damaged 60% less leaves when earthworms were present, regardless of the species composition of the plant communities. Percent leaf area consumed by slugs was 40% lower in communities containing 12 plant species; in communities containing only three species earthworms increased slug leaf area consumption. Grasses were generally avoided by slugs. Leaf length and number of tillers was increased in mesocosms containing more plant species but little influenced by earthworms. Overall shoot biomass was decreased, root biomass increased in plant communities with more plant species. Earthworms decreased total shoot biomass in mesocosms with more plant species but did not affect biomass production of individual functional groups. Plant nitrogen concentrations across three focus species were 18% higher when earthworms were present; composition of plant communities did not affect plant quality. CONCLUSIONS: Given the important role that both herbivores and earthworms play in structuring plant communities the implications of belowground-aboveground linkages should more broadly be considered when investigating global change effects on ecosystems.

Concepts: Invasive species, Affect, Animal, Biodiversity, Earthworm, Herbivore, Grassland, Plant


Herbivory is widely accepted as a vital function on coral reefs. To date, the majority of studies examining herbivory in coral reef environments have focused on the roles of fishes and/or urchins, with relatively few studies considering the potential role of macroherbivores in reef processes. Here, we introduce evidence that highlights the potential role of marine turtles as herbivores on coral reefs. While conducting experimental habitat manipulations to assess the roles of herbivorous reef fishes we observed green turtles (Chelonia mydas) and hawksbill turtles (Eretmochelys imbricata) showing responses that were remarkably similar to those of herbivorous fishes. Reducing the sediment load of the epilithic algal matrix on a coral reef resulted in a forty-fold increase in grazing by green turtles. Hawksbill turtles were also observed to browse transplanted thalli of the macroalga Sargassum swartzii in a coral reef environment. These responses not only show strong parallels to herbivorous reef fishes, but also highlight that marine turtles actively, and intentionally, remove algae from coral reefs. When considering the size and potential historical abundance of marine turtles we suggest that these potentially valuable herbivores may have been lost from many coral reefs before their true importance was understood.

Concepts: Herbivore, Algae, Leatherback turtle, Coral, Sea turtle, Green turtle, Hawksbill turtle, Coral reef


Plants respond to herbivory with the emission of induced plant volatiles. These volatiles may attract parasitic wasps (parasitoids) that attack the herbivores. Although in this sense the emission of volatiles has been hypothesized to be beneficial to the plant, it is still debated whether this is also the case under natural conditions because other organisms such as herbivores also respond to the emitted volatiles. One important group of organisms, the enemies of parasitoids, hyperparasitoids, has not been included in this debate because little is known about their foraging behaviour. Here, we address whether hyperparasitoids use herbivore-induced plant volatiles to locate their host. We show that hyperparasitoids find their victims through herbivore-induced plant volatiles emitted in response to attack by caterpillars that in turn had been parasitized by primary parasitoids. Moreover, only one of two species of parasitoids affected herbivore-induced plant volatiles resulting in the attraction of more hyperparasitoids than volatiles from plants damaged by healthy caterpillars. This resulted in higher levels of hyperparasitism of the parasitoid that indirectly gave away its presence through its effect on plant odours induced by its caterpillar host. Here, we provide evidence for a role of compounds in the oral secretion of parasitized caterpillars that induce these changes in plant volatile emission. Our results demonstrate that the effects of herbivore-induced plant volatiles should be placed in a community-wide perspective that includes species in the fourth trophic level to improve our understanding of the ecological functions of volatile release by plants. Furthermore, these findings suggest that the impact of species in the fourth trophic level should also be considered when developing Integrated Pest Management strategies aimed at optimizing the control of insect pests using parasitoids.

Concepts: Species, Herbivore, Ant, Animal, Hymenoptera, Insect, Parasitism, Plant


All living organisms are linked through trophic relationships with resources and consumers, the balance of which determines overall ecosystem stability and functioning. Ecological research has identified a multitude of mechanisms that contribute to this balance, but ecologists are now challenged with predicting responses to global environmental changes. Despite a wealth of studies highlighting likely outcomes for specific mechanisms and subsets of a system (e.g., plants, plant-herbivore or predator-prey interactions), studies comparing overall effects of changes at multiple trophic levels are rare. We used a combination of experiments in a grassland system to test how biomass at the plant, herbivore and natural enemy (parasitoid) levels responds to the interactive effects of two key global change drivers: warming and nitrogen deposition. We found that higher temperatures and elevated nitrogen generated a multitrophic community that was increasingly dominated by herbivores. Moreover, we found synergistic effects of the drivers on biomass, which differed across trophic levels. Both absolute and relative biomass of herbivores increased disproportionately to that of plants and, in particular, parasitoids, which did not show any significant response to the treatments. Reduced parasitism rates mirrored the profound biomass changes in the system. These findings carry important implications for the response of biota to environmental changes; reduced top-down regulation is likely to coincide with an increase in herbivory, which in turn is likely to cascade to other fundamental ecosystem processes. Our findings also provide multitrophic data to support the general concern of increasing herbivore pest outbreaks in a warmer world.

Concepts: Organism, Animal, Life, Trophic level, Herbivore, Plant, Predation, Ecology


Plant germination and growth can be influenced by sound, but the ecological significance of these responses is unclear. We asked whether acoustic energy generated by the feeding of insect herbivores was detected by plants. We report that the vibrations caused by insect feeding can elicit chemical defenses. Arabidopsis thaliana (L.) rosettes pre-treated with the vibrations caused by caterpillar feeding had higher levels of glucosinolate and anthocyanin defenses when subsequently fed upon by Pieris rapae (L.) caterpillars than did untreated plants. The plants also discriminated between the vibrations caused by chewing and those caused by wind or insect song. Plants thus respond to herbivore-generated vibrations in a selective and ecologically meaningful way. A vibration signaling pathway would complement the known signaling pathways that rely on volatile, electrical, or phloem-borne signals. We suggest that vibration may represent a new long distance signaling mechanism in plant-insect interactions that contributes to systemic induction of chemical defenses.

Concepts: Plant defense against herbivory, Animal, Plant, Herbivore


Climate change can influence ecosystems via both direct effects on individual organisms and indirect effects mediated by species interactions. However, we understand little about how these changes will ripple through ecosystems or whether there are particular ecological characteristics that might make ecosystems more susceptible-or more resistant-to warming. By combining in situ experimental warming with herbivore manipulations in a natural rocky intertidal community for over 16 months, we show that herbivory regulates the capacity of marine communities to resist warming. We found that limpet herbivores helped to preserve trophic and competitive interactions under experimental warming, dampening the impact of warming on overall community composition. The presence of limpets facilitated the survival of the main habitat modifier (barnacles) under warmer conditions, which, in turn, facilitated the presence of a consumer guild. When limpets were removed, environmental warming altered trophic, competitive, and facilitative interactions, with cascading impacts on community succession and stability. We conclude that conserving trophic structure and the integrity of interaction networks is vitally important as Earth continues to warm.

Concepts: Ecological succession, Herbivory, Limpet, Animal, Herbivore, Plant, Ecology, Intertidal zone


Manduca sexta (Ms) larvae are known to efficiently excrete ingested nicotine when feeding on their nicotine-producing native hostplant, Nicotiana attenuata. Here we describe how ingested nicotine is co-opted for larval defense by a unique mechanism. Plant-mediated RNAi was used to silence a midgut-expressed, nicotine-induced cytochrome P450 6B46 (CYP6B46) in larvae consuming transgenic N. attenuata plants producing MsCYP6B46 dsRNA. These and transgenic nicotine-deficient plants were planted into native habitats to study the phenotypes of larvae feeding on these plants and the behavior of their predators. The attack-behavior of a native wolf spider (Camptocosa parallela), a major nocturnal predator, provided the key to understanding MsCYP6B46’s function: spiders clearly preferred CYP6B46-silenced larvae, just as they had preferred larvae fed nicotine-deficient plants. MsCYP6B46 redirects a small amount (0.65%) of ingested nicotine from the midgut into hemolymph, from which nicotine is exhaled through the spiracles as an antispider signal. CYP6B46-silenced larvae were more susceptible to spider-attack because they exhaled less nicotine because of lower hemolymph nicotine concentrations. CYP6B46-silenced larvae were impaired in distributing ingested nicotine from midgut to hemolymph, but not in the clearing of hemolymph nicotine or in the exhalation of nicotine from hemolymph. MsCYP6B46 could be a component of a previously hypothesized pump that converts nicotine to a short-lived, transportable, metabolite. Other predators, big-eyed bugs, and antlion larvae were insensitive to this defense. Thus, chemical defenses, too toxic to sequester, can be repurposed for defensive functions through respiration as a form of defensive halitosis, and predators can assist the functional elucidation of herbivore genes.

Concepts: Herbivore, Spider bite, Nicotiana, Insect, Defense, Cytochrome P450, Spider, Predation


Mammals dominate modern terrestrial herbivore ecosystems, whereas extant herbivorous reptiles are limited in diversity and body size. The evolution of reptile herbivory and its relationship to mammalian diversification is poorly understood with respect to climate and the roles of predation pressure and competition for food resources. Here, we describe a giant fossil acrodontan lizard recovered with a diverse mammal assemblage from the late middle Eocene Pondaung Formation of Myanmar, which provides a historical test of factors controlling body size in herbivorous squamates. We infer a predominately herbivorous feeding ecology for the new acrodontan based on dental anatomy, phylogenetic relationships and body size. Ranking body masses for Pondaung Formation vertebrates indicates that the lizard occupied a size niche among the larger herbivores and was larger than most carnivorous mammals. Paleotemperature estimates of Pondaung Formation environments based on the body size of the new lizard are approximately 2-5°C higher than modern. These results indicate that competitive exclusion and predation by mammals did not restrict body size evolution in these herbivorous squamates, and elevated temperatures relative to modern climates during the Paleogene greenhouse may have resulted in the evolution of gigantism through elevated poikilothermic metabolic rates and in response to increases in floral productivity.

Concepts: Carnivore, Predation, Reptile, Herbivore, Omnivore, Mesozoic, Mammal, Animal


Cuscuta spp. (i.e., dodders) are stem parasites that naturally graft to their host plants to extract water and nutrients; multiple adjacent hosts are often parasitized by one or more Cuscuta plants simultaneously, forming connected plant clusters. Metabolites, proteins, and mRNAs are known to be transferred from hosts to Cuscuta, and Cuscuta bridges even facilitate host-to-host virus movement. Whether Cuscuta bridges transmit ecologically meaningful signals remains unknown. Here we show that, when host plants are connected by Cuscuta bridges, systemic herbivory signals are transmitted from attacked plants to unattacked plants, as revealed by the large transcriptomic changes in the attacked local leaves, undamaged systemic leaves of the attacked plants, and leaves of unattacked but connected hosts. The interplant signaling is largely dependent on the jasmonic acid pathway of the damaged local plants, and can be found among conspecific or heterospecific hosts of different families. Importantly, herbivore attack of one host plant elevates defensive metabolites in the other systemic Cuscuta bridge-connected hosts, resulting in enhanced resistance against insects even in several consecutively Cuscuta-connected host plants over long distances (> 100 cm). By facilitating plant-to-plant signaling, Cuscuta provides an information-based means of countering the resource-based fitness costs to their hosts.

Concepts: Fern, Symbiosis, Cuscuta, Parasitism, Animal, Parasitic plant, Herbivore, Plant