Abstract

Plant-insect interactions are vital for structuring terrestrial ecosystems. It is still unclear how climate change in geological time might have shaped plant-insect interactions leading to modern ecosystems. We investigated the effect of Quaternary climate change on plant-insect interactions by observing insect herbivory on leaves of an evergreen sclerophyllous oak lineage (Quercus section Heterobalanus, HET) from a late Pliocene flora and eight living forests in southwestern China. Among the modern HET populations investigated, the damage diversity tends to be higher in warmer and wetter climates. Even though the climate of the fossil flora was warmer and wetter than modern sample sites, the damage diversity is lower in the fossil flora than in modern HET populations. Eleven out of 18 damage types in modern HET populations are observed in the fossil flora. All damage types in the fossil flora, except for one distinctive gall type, are found in modern HET populations. These results indicate that Quaternary climate change did not cause extensive extinction of insect herbivores in HET forests. The accumulation of a more diverse herbivore fauna over time supports the view of plant species as evolutionary “islands” for colonization and turnover of insect species.

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