Herbivory can negatively affect several components of plant reproduction. Yet, because of a lack of experimental studies involving multiple populations, the extent to which differences in herbivory contribute to among-population variation in plant reproductive success is poorly known. We experimentally determined the effects of insect herbivory on reproductive output in nine natural populations of the perennial herb Lythrum salicaria along a disturbance gradient in an archipelago in northern Sweden, and we quantified among-population differentiation in resistance to herbivory in a common-garden experiment in the same area. The intensity of leaf herbivory varied >500-fold and mean female reproductive success >400-fold among the study populations. The intensity of herbivory was lowest in populations subject to strong disturbance from ice and wave action. Experimental removal of insect herbivores showed that the effect of herbivory on female reproductive success was correlated with the intensity of herbivory and that differences in insect herbivory could explain much of the among-population variation in the proportion of plants flowering and seed production. Population differentiation in resistance to herbivory was limited. The results demonstrate that the intensity of herbivory is a major determinant of flowering and seed output in L. salicaria, but that differences in herbivory are not associated with differences in plant resistance at the spatial scale examined. They further suggest that the physical disturbance regime may strongly influence the performance and abundance of perennial herbs and patterns of selection not only because of its effect on interspecific competition, but also because of effects on interactions with specialized herbivores.
Keywords: Disturbance gradient; Flowering; Plant resistance; Plant–herbivore interactions; Seed production.