Climate-driven change in plant-insect interactions along elevation gradients

Sergio Rasmann*, Loïc Pellissier, Emmanuel Defossez, Hervé Jactel, Georges Kunstler

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

128 Citations (Scopus)


Global warming is predicted to dramatically alter communities' composition through differential colonization abilities, such as between sessile plants and their mobile herbivores. Novel interactions between previously non-overlapping species may, however, also be mediated by altered plants' responses to herbivore attack. Syndromes of plant defences and tolerance are driven by inherited functional traits, biotic and abiotic conditions, and the geographical and historical contingencies affecting the community. Therefore, understanding climate change-driven herbivore responses and evolution towards a particular plant defence syndrome is key to forecasting species interactions in the near future. In this paper, we first document variations in herbivory, and plant defences along altitudinal gradients that act as 'natural experiments'. We then use an empirical model to predict how specialist herbivore abundance may shift with respect to elevation in the near future. Our field surveys and field experiment showed a decrease in herbivory with elevation. However, contrary to expectations, our meta-regression analyses showed that plant defences, particularly leaf toughness and flavonoid compounds, tend to be higher at high elevations, while secondary metabolites showed no clear trend with elevation. Based on those results, we discuss how plant communities and species-specific plant defence syndromes will change in response to the climate-driven herbivore colonization of higher altitudes. Particularly, plant from high elevation, due to high protection against abiotic stress may be already ecologically fitted to resist the sudden increase in herbivory pressure that they will likely experience during global change.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)46-54
Number of pages9
JournalFunctional Ecology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2014


  • Community ecology
  • Ecological gradients
  • Flavonoids
  • Herbivory
  • Leaf toughness
  • Plant defences
  • Predators


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