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Plant-herbivore interactions across an alpine meadow gradient Open Access


Other title
Species-area relationship
Habitat fragmentation
Alpine ecology
Rising treeline
Adult-larva dichotomy
Host orientation
Alpine meadow
Plant-herbivore interactions
Habitat quality
Larval resources
Parnassius smintheus
Adult resources
Climate change
Population ecology
Habitat loss
Sedum lanceolatum
Host finding
Alpine treeline
Host plant
Type of item
Degree grantor
University of Alberta
Author or creator
Illerbrun, Kurt K
Supervisor and department
Roland, Jens
Examining committee member and department
Debinski, Diane (Department of Ecology, Evolution, and Organismal Biology, Iowa State University)
Matter, Stephen F. (Biological Sciences, University of Cincinnati)
Cahill, James F. (Biological Sciences, University of Alberta)
Kershaw, G. Peter (Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, University of Alberta)
Manson, Jessamyn (Biological Sciences, University of Alberta)
Department of Biological Sciences
Date accepted
Graduation date
Doctor of Philosophy
Degree level
The Rocky Mountain apollo butterfly, Parnassius smintheus, and its host-plant Sedum lanceolatum, are endemic to open alpine meadows threatened by the encroachment of trees. I explore variability in interactions between P. smintheus and S. lanceolatum relative to the treeline-delimited meadow edge, and consider the consequences of continued tree encroachment for these and other species facing similar threats. First, I demonstrate that S. lanceolatum distribution and quality vary relative to the meadow edge, with plants near the treeline being both more abundant and more nutritious than those elsewhere in the meadow. Next, I show that this variation influences both oviposition and larval feeding by P. smintheus in unexpected ways: females actively oviposit in response to both the abundance and quality of hosts yet show no strong attraction to the meadow edge, while the spatial patterns of host-plants and herbivory upon those host-plants is decoupled (i.e., not ideal) only near the treeline, despite the abundance and apparent suitability of hosts there. I also show that, because larval P. smintheus can actively respond to the distribution of their hosts, the spatial pattern of herbivory is likely the product of choice, not chance. Finally, I explore how previous stress, including P. smintheus herbivory and flowering history, affect the growth of S. lanceolatum relative to the treeline, showing that while flowering is more stressful to S. lanceolatum overall than herbivory, herbivory may lead to compensatory growth away from the treeline. I conclude that P. smintheus-S. lanceolatum interactions vary spatially, that abundant host-plant resources near the meadow edge may in fact not be available to larvae, and that the extent of actually usable larval habitat may therefore differ from that of apparently suitable habitat. Overall, I propose that a synthetic assessment of habitat for both adults and larvae will give a clearer sense of likely butterfly responses to environmental change and, consequently, aid conservation of Lepidoptera.
Permission is hereby granted to the University of Alberta Libraries to reproduce single copies of this thesis and to lend or sell such copies for private, scholarly or scientific research purposes only. Where the thesis is converted to, or otherwise made available in digital form, the University of Alberta will advise potential users of the thesis of these terms. The author reserves all other publication and other rights in association with the copyright in the thesis and, except as herein before provided, neither the thesis nor any substantial portion thereof may be printed or otherwise reproduced in any material form whatsoever without the author's prior written permission.
Citation for previous publication
Illerbrun, K. and J. Roland. 2011. Treeline proximity alters an alpine plant-herbivore interaction. Oecologia, 166:151–159.

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