Foliage of oaks grown under elevated CO2 reduces performance of Antheraea polyphemus (Lepidoptera: Saturniidae)

Rachel G. Knepp, Jason G. Hamilton, Arthur R. Zangerl, May R Berenbaum, Evan H Delucia

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


To understand how the increase in atmospheric CO2 from human activity may affect leaf damage by forest insects, we examined host plant preference and larval performance of a generalist herbivore, Antheraea polyphemus Cram., that consumed foliage developed under ambient or elevated CO2. Larvae were fed leaves from Quercus alba L. and Quercus velutina Lam. grown under ambient or plus 200 μl/liter CO2 using free air carbon dioxide enrichment (FACE). Lower digestibility of foliage, greater protein precipitation capacity in frass, and lower nitrogen concentration of larvae indicate that growth under elevated CO2 reduced the food quality of oak leaves for caterpillars. Consuming leaves of either oak species grown under elevated CO2 slowed the rate of development of A. polyphemus larvae. When given a choice, A. polyphemus larvae preferred Q. velutina leaves grown under ambient CO2; feeding on foliage of this species grown under elevated CO2 led to reduced consumption, slower growth, and greater mortality. Larvae compensated for the lower digestibility of Q. alba leaves grown under elevated CO2 by increasing the efficiency of conversion of ingested food into larval mass. Despite equivalent consumption rates, larvae grew larger when they consumed Q. alba leaves grown under elevated compared with ambient CO2. Reduced consumption, slower growth rates, and increased mortality of insect larvae may explain lower total leaf damage observed previously in plots in this forest exposed to elevated CO2. By subtly altering aspects of leaf chemistry, the ever-increasing concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere will change the trophic dynamics in forest ecosystems.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)609-617
Number of pages9
JournalEnvironmental entomology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jun 2007


  • Arthropod
  • Feeding efficiency
  • Global change
  • Herbivory
  • Leaf nitrogen
  • Phenolic content

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Ecology
  • Insect Science


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