Aboveground-belowground herbivore interactions: a meta-analysis

Scott N Johnson, Katherine E Clark, Sue E. Hartley, T Hefin Jones, Scott W McKenzie, Julia Koricheva

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Research investigating interactions between aboveground (AG) and below-ground (BG) herbivores has been central to characterizing AG-BG linkages in terrestrial ecosystems, with many of these interactions forming the basis of complex food webs spanning the two subsystems. Despite the growing literature on the effects of AG and BG herbivores on each other, underlying patterns have been difficult to identify due to a high degree of context dependency. In this study, we present the first quantitative meta-analysis of AG and BG herbivore interactions. Previous global predictions, specifically that BG herbivores normally promoted AG herbivore performance and AG herbivores normally reduced BG herbivore performance, were not supported. Instead, the meta-analysis identified four factors that determined the outcome of AG-BG interactions. (1) Sequence of herbivore arrival on host plants was important, with BG herbivores promoting AG herbivore performance only when introduced to the plant simultaneously, whereas AG herbivores had negative effects on BG herbivores only when introduced first. (2) AG herbivores negatively affected BG herbivore survival but tended to increase population growth rates. (3) AG herbivores negatively affected BG herbivore performance on annual plants, but not on perennials, and these effects were observed more consistently in laboratory than field studies. (4) The type of herbivore was also important, with BG insect herbivores belonging to the order Diptera (i.e., true flies) having the strongest negative effects on AG herbivores. Coleoptera (i.e., beetles) species were the most widely investigated BG herbivores and had positive impacts on AG Homoptera (e.g., aphids), but negative effects on AG Hymenoptera (e.g., sawflies). The strongest negative outcomes for BG herbivores were seen when the AG herbivore was a Coleoptera species. We found no evidence for publication bias in AG-BG herbivore interaction literature and conclude that several biological and experimental factors are important for predicting the outcome of AG-BG herbivore interactions. The sequence of herbivore arrival on the host plant was among the most influential.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2208-2215
Issue number10
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2012


  • Animals
  • Ecosystem
  • Herbivory
  • Host-Parasite Interactions
  • Insects
  • Plant Components, Aerial
  • Plant Roots
  • Plants

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