The effects of group size, leaf size, and density on the performance of a leaf-mining moth

C Low, S N Wood, R M Nisbet

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23 Citations (SciVal)


The effects of two factors, leaf size and group size, on the performance of the Tupelo leafminer, Antispila nysaefoliella (Lepidoptera: Heliozelidae), were examined by fitting growth models to mine expansion data using nonlinear mixed-effects models. The rate of mine expansion served as a proxy for larval performance because of its correlation with both feeding activity and growth rate and is also the means by which a larva achieves its final mine size (or total consumption). Leaf size was used as a measure of resource availability, and was expected to reduce the impact of resource competition and enhance larval performance. In contrast to the unidirectional effects expected for leaf size (i.e. more resources should enhance performance), the direction for the effects of group size was expected to depend on the mechanism(s) driving the effect. For example, if there is resource competition among larvae in a group, then this could increase the feeding rates of some larvae or reduce the total consumption of others. However, if leaf mining induces host plant chemical defences, then larger groups might elicit a greater defensive response by the host plant (at the leaf), and hence, be characterized by reduced feeding and growth rates. To investigate these interactions, two growth models, the Gompertz model and a modified version of the von Bertalanffy growth equation, were fitted to time series of the sizes of individual leaf mines using nonlinear mixed-effects models. Linear and nonlinear associations of each factor (group size or leaf size) with model parameters were then evaluated using a hierarchical testing procedure by determining: (i) whether inclusion of the factor produced a better-fit model, and (ii) if it did, the form of that relationship (i.e. linear or nonlinear). Three patterns were detected with these analyses. (i) Leaf size had a significant positive, linear relationship with mine expansion rate. (ii) Group size had a significant quadratic relationship with mine expansion rate. (iii) The effects of leaf and group size on the maximum mine size were opposite to those found with growth rate.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)152-160
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Animal Ecology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2009


  • aggregative feeding
  • life-history strategy
  • group size
  • plant-insect interactions
  • leaf quality
  • Antispila nysaefoliella


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