The University of ReadingSchool of Agriculture, Policy and Development

About CAER
  Effects of Climate Change on Insect: Plant: Insect Interactions

Joanna Staley

Supervisors: Mike Gooding, Simon Mortimer, John Roberts (CEH)
  • Elateridae larva (wireworm); one of the root-feeders found at the Wytham field siteThe earthís climate is changing rapidly. To understand the possible consequences of these changes, ecologists need to investigate their effects on interactions between species, which can play a key role in the structure of ecosystems
  • This project investigates the effect of predicted changes in rainfall on the interactions between root-feeding insect herbivores, their host plants, and above ground phytophages
  • Previous work on root-feeders has shown they can affect the outcome of plant competion, thereby influencing the speed of succession in grassland communities. In addition, root-feeding insects can indirectly affect the success of foliar herbivores, through changes to the host plantís chemistry.

Fieldwork and greenhouse experiments are being used to investigate the effects of changes in soil water content (due to changing precipitation) on the outcome of indirect interactions between above and below ground insect herbivores. One suggested mechanism for these interactions is the interference of root feeders with the uptake of water by their host plants. Under reduced soil water availability the effect of root feeders on their host plants may therefore be increased.

Host plant species may differ in their susceptibility both to changes in soil water content and root herbivores. Greenhouse experiments are being used to investigate the link between these species differences and characteristics such as root size and structure.

Wytham field site, Oxfordshire (photo courtesy of Greg Masters, CABI Bioscience)
Fieldwork for this project is based at an existing long-term field manipulation experiment at Wytham Woods, Oxfordshire. The experiment was set up in 1993, and is currently run by CEH (Centre for Ecology and Hydrology). The climate change manipulations include a complete summer drought during July and August, and a 20% enhanced summer rainfall treatment. Long-term vegetation and above-ground invertebrate monitoring is carried out by CABI Bioscience, but the effects of the treatments on root-feeding insect populations has not previously been investigated.


The results from this PhD project will increase our understanding of the mechanisms underlying indirect interactions between root and foliar feeders, the differing susceptibility of grassland plant species to root herbivory, and the effects of climate change on these interactions.

The study is funded jointly by ...With input from ...

The University of ReadingCentre for Ecology and HydrologyCABI Bioscience

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