Direct and indirect effects of CO2, nitrogen, and community diversity on plant-enemy interactions

Jennifer A. Lau, Joachim Strengbom, Laurie R. Stone, Peter B. Reich, Peter Tiffin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

29 Scopus citations


Resource abundance and plant diversity are two predominant factors hypothesized to influence the amount of damage plants receive from natural enemies. Many impacts of these environmental variables on plant damage are likely indirect and result because both resource availability and diversity can influence plant traits associated with attractiveness to herbivores or susceptibility to pathogens. We used a long-term, manipulative field experiment to investigate how carbon dioxide (CO2) enrichment, nitrogen (N) fertilization, and plant community diversity affect plant traits and the amount of herbivore and pathogen damage experienced by the common prairie legume Lespedeza capitata. We detected little evidence that CO2 or N affected plant traits; however, plants growing in highdiversity treatments (polycultures) were taller, were less pubescent, and produced thinner leaves (higher specific leaf area). Interestingly, we also detected little evidence that CO2 or N affect damage. Plants growing in polycultures compared to monocultures, however, experienced a fivefold increase in damage from generalist herbivores, 64% less damage from specialist herbivores, and 91% less damage from pathogens. Moreover, within diversity treatments, damage by generalist herbivores was negatively correlated with pubescence and often was positively correlated with plant height, while damage by specialist herbivores typically was positively correlated with pubescence and negatively associated with height. These patterns are consistent with changes in plant traits driving differences in herbivory between diversity treatments. In contrast, changes in measured plant traits did not explain the difference in disease incidence between monocultures and polycultures. In summary, our data provide little evidence that CO2 or N supply alter damage from natural enemies. By contrast, plants grown in monocultures experienced greater specialist herbivore and pathogen damage but less generalist herbivore damage than plants grown in diverse communities. Part of this diversity effect was mediated by changes in plant traits, many of which likely are plastic responses to diversity treatments, but some of which may be the result of evolutionary changes in response to these long-term experimental manipulations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)226-236
Number of pages11
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2008


  • Carbon dioxide
  • Disease
  • Diversity
  • Herbivory
  • Lespedeza capitata
  • Nitrogen deposition
  • Plant-herbivore
  • Plant-pathogen
  • Resource availability


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