The effect of multiple host species on a keystone parasitic plant and its aphid herbivores

Jennifer K. Rowntree, David Fisher Barham, Alan J A Stewart, Sue E. Hartley

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


    Summary: The exploitation of shared resources by diverse organisms underpins the structure of ecological communities. Hemiparasitic plants and the insect herbivores feeding on them both rely, directly and indirectly, on the resources supplied by the parasite's host plant. Therefore, the identity and number of host plant species providing these resources is likely to be critical for parasite and herbivore performance. We tested the effect of single and multiple host species on the biomass of the generalist parasitic plant Rhinanthus minor and the abundance of its aphid (Aphis gossypii) herbivores. Parasite biomass was proportional to the number of haustorial connections to host roots and was determined by host species identity rather than host functional group. Host species identity was also an important influence on aphid population size, and parasites attached to Lotus corniculatus experienced a considerable reduction in aphid herbivory. The effects on the parasite attaching to multiple hosts depended on the combination of species present. However, host mixtures generally benefitted aphids by diluting the negative effects of particular host species. Our findings suggest that the specificity of host attachment alters the impact of this keystone parasitic plant on its own herbivores and, potentially, on the wider plant and herbivore community. © 2014 The Authors Functional Ecology published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd on behalf of British Ecological Society.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)829-836
    Number of pages7
    JournalFunctional Ecology
    Issue number4
    Publication statusPublished - 2014


    • Aphis gossypii
    • Direct and indirect effects
    • Herbivory
    • Lotus corniculatus
    • Mixed hosts
    • Rhinanthus minor


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