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Research article2023Peer reviewedOpen access

Effects of experimental warming at the microhabitat scale on oak leaf traits and insect herbivory across a contrasting environmental gradient

Moreira, Xoaquin; Abdala-Roberts, Luis; Lago-Nunez, Beatriz; Cao, Ana; De Pauw, Karen; De Ro, Annelore; Gasperini, Cristina; Hedwall, Per-Ola; Iacopetti, Giovanni; Lenoir, Jonathan; Meeussen, Camille; Plue, Jan; Sanczuk, Pieter; Selvi, Federico; Spicher, Fabien; Vanden Broeck, An; De Frenne, Pieter


Forest microclimatic variation can result in substantial temperature differences at local scales with concomitant impacts on plant defences and herbivory. Such microclimatic effects, however, may differ across abiotically contrasting sites depending on background environmental differences. To test these cross-scale effects shaping species ecological and evolutionary responses, we experimentally tested the effects of aboveground microhabitat warming on insect leaf herbivory and leaf defences (toughness, phenolic compounds) for saplings of sessile oak Quercus petraea across two abiotically contrasting sites spanning 9(degrees) latitude. We found higher levels of herbivory at the low-latitude site, but leaf traits showed mixed patterns across sites. Toughness and condensed tannins were higher at the high-latitude site, whereas hydrolysable tannins and hydroxycinnamic acids were higher at the low-latitude site. At the microhabitat scale, experimental warming increased herbivory, but did not affect any of the measured leaf traits. Condensed tannins were negatively correlated with herbivory, suggesting that they drive variation in leaf damage at both scales. Moreover, the effects of microhabitat warming on herbivory and leaf traits were consistent across sites, i.e. effects at the microhabitat scale play out similarly despite variation in factors acting at broader scales. These findings together suggest that herbivory responds to both microhabitat (warming) and broad-scale environmental factors, whereas leaf traits appear to respond more to environmental factors operating at broad scales (e.g. macroclimatic factors) than to warming at the microhabitat scale. In turn, leaf secondary chemistry (tannins) appears to drive both broad-scale and microhabitat-scale variation in herbivory. Further studies are needed using reciprocal transplants with more populations across a greater number of sites to tease apart plant plasticity from genetic differences contributing to leaf trait and associated herbivory responses across scales and, in doing so, better understand the potential for dynamics such as local adaptation and range expansion or contraction under shifting climatic regimes.


latitudinal variation; microclimate; phenolic compounds; plant-herbivore interactions; Quercus petraea; saplings

Published in

2023, Volume: 2024, number: 1, article number: e10353

      SLU Authors

      Associated SLU-program

      SLU Plant Protection Network
      SLU Forest Damage Center

      UKÄ Subject classification

      Climate Research

      Publication identifier


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