Plant reproductive allocation predicts herbivore dynamics across spatial and temporal scales

Tom E.X. Miller, Andrew J. Tyre, Svata M. Louda

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

28 Scopus citations


Life-history theory suggests that iteroparous plants should be flexible in their allocation of resources toward growth and reproduction. Such plasticity could have consequences for herbivores that prefer or specialize on vegetative versus reproductive structures. To test this prediction, we studied the response of the cactus bug (Narnia pallidicornis) to meristem allocation by tree cholla cactus (Opuntia imbricata). We evaluated the explanatory power of demographic models that incorporated variation in cactus relative reproductive effort (RRE; the proportion of meristems allocated toward reproduction). Field data provided strong support for a single model that denned herbivore fecundity as a time-varying, increasing function of host RRE. High-RRE plants were predicted to support larger insect populations, and this effect was strongest late in the season. Independent field data provided strong support for these qualitative predictions and suggested that plant allocation effects extend across temporal and spatial scales. Specifically, late-season insect abundance was positively associated with interannual changes in cactus RRE over 3 years. Spatial variation in insect abundance was correlated with variation in RRE among five cactus populations across New Mexico. We conclude that plant allocation can be a critical component of resource quality for insect herbivores and, thus, an important mechanism underlying variation in herbivore abundance across time and space.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)608-616
Number of pages9
JournalAmerican Naturalist
Issue number5
StatePublished - Nov 2006


  • Demographic model
  • Herbivory
  • Insect-plant interactions
  • Opuntia
  • Population dynamics
  • Resource allocation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


Dive into the research topics of 'Plant reproductive allocation predicts herbivore dynamics across spatial and temporal scales'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this