Insect herbivores feeding on low-quality plants often compensate by increasing their consumption of plant tissue. This usually results in a longer developmental time leading to a higher vulnerability to natural enemies. This has been termed the slow-growth, high-mortality hypothesis. To explore how compensation may shape the species composition of herbivore and natural enemy populations, we present a mathematical model of a tri-trophic system incorporating both the nutritional quality of plants and herbivores, and the compensatory ability of herbivores and their natural enemies. Using this model we predict the abundance of herbivores and natural enemies, and some characteristics of the composition of species of insect communities along a gradient of plant nutritional quality. Specifically, we make the following predictions: 1) In the absence of natural enemies, the abundance of the juvenile herbivores increases with plant quality, and only highly compensating herbivores persist at low plant nutritional quality. 2) If natural enemies are present, the abundance of the juvenile herbivores decreases with increasing plant quality due to more effective suppression by the natural enemies. Poorly compensating herbivores increase while their highly compensating counterparts decrease with lowered plant quality. 3) When the plants have low nutritional quality, natural enemies will only persist when either very highly compensating herbivores are present or if the natural enemy itself is highly compensating. 4) The abundance of adult herbivores in a community with natural enemies can either increase or decrease with increasing plant quality depending on the compensatory abilities of herbivores and natural enemies.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics