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Research article - Peer-reviewed, 2021

Water stress and insect herbivory interactively reduce crop yield while the insect pollination benefit is conserved

Raderschall, Chloe A.; Vico, Giulia; Lundin, Ola; Taylor, Astrid R.; Bommarco, Riccardo


Climate change is predicted to hamper crop production due to precipitation deficits and warmer temperatures inducing both water stress and increasing herbivory due to more abundant insect pests. Consequently, crop yields will be impacted simultaneously by abiotic and biotic stressors. Extensive yield losses due to such climate change stressors might, however, be mitigated by ecosystem services such as insect pollination. We examined the single and combined effects of water stress, insect herbivory and insect pollination on faba bean yield components and above- and belowground plant biomass under realistic field conditions. We used rainout shelters to simulate a scenario in line with climate change projections, with adequate water supply at sowing followed by a long period without precipitation. This induced a gradually increasing water stress, culminating around crop flowering and yield formation. We found that gradually increasing water stress combined with insect herbivory by aphids interactively shaped yield in faba beans. Individually, aphid herbivory reduced yield by 79% and water stress reduced yield by 52%. However, the combined effect of water stress and aphid herbivory reduced yield less (84%) than the sum of the individual stressor effects. In contrast, insect pollination increased yield by 68% independently of water availability and insect herbivory. Our results suggest that yield losses can be greatly reduced when both water stress and insect herbivory are reduced simultaneously. In contrast, reducing only one stressor has negligible benefits on yield as long as the crop is suffering from the other stressor. We call for further exploration of interactions among ecosystem services and biotic and abiotic stressors that simulate realistic conditions under climate change.


climate change; drought; faba bean; herbivory; insect pollination; water stress

Published in

Global Change Biology
2021, Volume: 27, number: 1, pages: 71-83
Publisher: WILEY