Species-specific defence responses facilitate conspecifics and inhibit heterospecifics in above-belowground herbivore interactions

Nat Commun. 2014 Sep 22;5:4851. doi: 10.1038/ncomms5851.


Conspecific and heterospecific aboveground and belowground herbivores often occur together in nature and their interactions may determine community structure. Here we show how aboveground adults and belowground larvae of the tallow tree specialist beetle Bikasha collaris and multiple heterospecific aboveground species interact to determine herbivore performance. Conspecific aboveground adults facilitate belowground larvae, but other aboveground damage inhibits larvae or has no effect. Belowground larvae increase conspecific adult feeding, but decrease heterospecific aboveground insect feeding and abundance. Chemical analyses and experiments with plant populations varying in phenolics show that all these positive and negative effects on insects are closely related to root and shoot tannin concentrations. Our results show that specific plant herbivore responses allow herbivore facilitation and inhibition to co-occur, likely shaping diverse aboveground and belowground communities. Considering species-specific responses of plants is critical for teasing apart inter- and intraspecific interactions in aboveground and belowground compartments.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Analysis of Variance
  • Animals
  • China
  • Coleoptera / physiology*
  • Euphorbiaceae / physiology
  • Herbivory*
  • Larva / physiology
  • Phenol / chemistry
  • Plant Roots / chemistry
  • Plant Shoots / chemistry
  • Regression Analysis
  • Species Specificity
  • Tannins / chemistry


  • Tannins
  • Phenol