Plant neighborhood effects on herbivory: Damage is both density and frequency dependent

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© 2015 by the Ecological Society of America. Neighboring plants can affect the likelihood that a focal plant is attacked by herbivores. Both the density of conspecific neighbors (resource concentration or dilution effects) and the relative density of heterospecific neighbors (associational effects or effects of neighbor frequency) within the local neighborhood can affect herbivore load and plant damage. Understanding how these neighborhood effects influence processes such as plant competition or natural selection on plant resistance traits will require knowing how both plant density and frequency affect damage, but previous studies have generally confounded density and frequency effects. In this study, we independently manipulated the absolute density and frequency (i.e., relative density) of two plant species (Solanum carolinense and Solidago altissima) to characterize neighborhood composition effects on S. carolinense damage by herbivores, providing the first picture of how both density and frequency of neighbors influence damage in a single system. We found both a positive effect of S. carolinense density on S. carolinense damage (a resource concentration effect) and a nonlinear effect of S. altissima frequency on S. carolinense damage (associational susceptibility). If these types of patterns are common in nature, future studies seeking to understand neighborhood effects on damage need to incorporate both density and frequency effects and capture any nonlinear effects by selecting a range of values rather than focusing on only a pair of densities or frequencies. This type of data on neighborhood effects will allow us to understand the contribution of neighborhood effects to population-level processes such as competition, the evolution of plant resistance to herbivores, and yield gains in agricultural crop mixtures.

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