Plant–insect interactions: the role of ecological stoichiometry

Michał Filipiak, January Weiner


The energy budget of organisms is a primary factor used to generate hypotheses in ecosystem ecology and evolutionary theory. Therefore, previous studies have focused on the energy costs and benefits of adaptations, the efficiency of energy acquisition and investment, and energy budget limitations. The maintenance of stoichiometric balance is equally important because inconsistency between the chemical composition of the consumer’s tissues and that of its food sources strongly affects the major life-history traits of the consumer and may influence the consumer’s fitness and shape plant–herbivore interactions. In this short review, the framework of ecological stoichiometry is introduced, focusing on plant–insect interactions in terrestrial ecosystems. The use of the trophic stoichiometric ratio (TSR) index is presented as a useful tool for indicating the chemical elements that are scarce in food and have the potential to limit the growth and development of herbivores, thereby influencing plant – herbivorous insect interactions. As an example, the elemental composition and stoichiometry of a pollen consumer (mason bee Osmia bicornis) and its preferred pollen are compared. The growth and development of O. bicornis may be colimited by the scarcity of K, Na, and N in pollen, whereas the development of the cocoon might be colimited by the scarcity of P, Mg, K, Na, Zn, Ca, and N. A literature review of the elemental composition of pollen shows high taxonomical variability in the concentrations of bee-limiting elements. The optimized collection of pollen species based on the elemental composition may represent a strategy used by bees to overcome stoichiometric mismatches, influencing their interactions with plants. It is concluded that the dependence of life-history traits on food stoichiometry should be considered when discussing life history evolution and plant–herbivore interactions. The TSR index may serve as a convenient and powerful tool in studies investigating plant-insect interactions.


ecological stoichiometry; plant; insect; plant–herbivore; fitness; life history; bee; pollen

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