Does the Slow-Growth, High-Mortality Hypothesis Apply Below Ground?

James Hourston, Alison Bennett, Scott Johnson, Alan Gange

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Belowground tri-trophic study systems present a challenging environment in which to study plant-herbivore-natural enemy interactions. For this reason, belowground examples are rarely available for testing general ecological theories. To redress this imbalance, we present, for the first time, data on a belowground tri-trophic system to test the slow growth, high mortality hypothesis. We investigated whether the differing performance of entomopathogenic nematodes (EPNs) in controlling the common pest black vine weevil Otiorhynchus sulcatus could be linked to differently resistant cultivars of the red raspberry Rubus idaeus. The O. sulcatus larvae recovered from R. idaeus plants showed significantly slower growth and higher mortality on the Glen Rosa cultivar, relative to the more commercially favored Glen Ample cultivar creating a convenient system for testing this hypothesis. Heterorhabditis megidis was found to be less effective at controlling O. sulcatus than Steinernema kraussei, but conformed to the hypothesis. However, S. kraussei maintained high levels of O. sulcatus mortality regardless of how larval growth was influenced by R. idaeus cultivar. We link this to direct effects that S. kraussei had on reducing O. sulcatus larval mass, indicating potential sub-lethal effects of S. kraussei, which the slow-growth, high-mortality hypothesis does not account for. Possible origins of these sub-lethal effects of EPN infection and how they may impact on a hypothesis designed and tested with aboveground predator and parasitoid systems are discussed.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0161904
Pages (from-to)1-12
Number of pages12
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - 29 Aug 2016

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