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Climate change, amino acids and aphids

Changes in host plant quality, including foliar amino acid concentrations, resulting from global climate change and attack from multiple herbivores, have the potential to modify the pest status of insect herbivores. This study investigated how mechanically simulated root herbivory of lucerne (Medicago sativa) before and after aphid infestation affected the pea aphid (Acyrthosiphon pisum) under elevated temperature (eT) and carbon dioxide concentrations (eCO2). eT increased plant height and biomass, and eCO2 decreased root C:N. Foliar amino acid concentrations and aphid numbers increased in response to eCO2, but only at ambient temperatures, demonstrating the ability of eT to negate the effects of eCO2. Root damage reduced aboveground biomass, height, and root %N, and increased root %C and C:N, most probably via decreased biological nitrogen fixation. Total foliar amino acid concentrations and aphid colonization success were higher in plants with roots cut early (before aphid arrival) than those with roots cut late (after aphid arrival); however, this effect was counteracted by eT. These results demonstrate the importance of amino acid concentrations for aphids and identify individual amino acids as being potential factors underpinning aphid responses to eT, eCO2, and root damage in lucerne. Incorporating trophic complexity and multiple climatic factors into plant–herbivore studies enables greater insight into how plants and insects will interact in the future, with implications for sustainable pest control and future crop security.

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Dr James Ryalls


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