Elevation gradients are used as a proxy to simulate climate change effects. A field study was conducted along an elevational gradient in Nepal to understand the effects of abiotic conditions on agriculturally important insect herbivore populations (tobacco caterpillar: Spodoptera litura, tomato fruit worm: Helicoverpa armigera, and South American leaf miner, Tuta absoluta) and herbivory damage on tomatoes. Elevation ranged from 100 m to 1400 m above sea level, representing different climatic zones where tomatoes are grown. Contrary to our hypothesis, natural herbivore populations and herbivory damage significantly increased at higher elevations. Individual insect species responses were variable. Populations of S. litura and T. absoluta increased at higher elevations, whereas the H. armigera population was highest at the mid-elevational range. Temperature variations with elevation also affected insect catch numbers and the level of plant damage from herbivory. In the context of climate warming, our results demonstrate that the interactive effects of elevation and climatic factors (e.g., temperature) will play an important role in determining the changes in insect pest populations and the extent of crop losses.
Keywords: Nepal; climate change; elevational gradient; herbivory; insect pests.