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Freedom to move: Arctic caterpillar (Lepidoptera) growth rate increases with access to new willows (Salicaceae)

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  29 April 2016

Christopher J. Greyson-Gaito*
Department of Zoology and the Biodiversity Research Centre, University of British Columbia, University Blvd, Vancouver, British Columbia, V6T 1Z4, Canada Department of Geography and the Biodiversity Research Centre, University of British Columbia, 1984 West Mall, Vancouver, British Columbia, V6T 1Z2, Canada
Matthew A. Barbour
Department of Zoology and the Biodiversity Research Centre, University of British Columbia, University Blvd, Vancouver, British Columbia, V6T 1Z4, Canada
Mariano A. Rodriguez-Cabal
Department of Zoology and the Biodiversity Research Centre, University of British Columbia, University Blvd, Vancouver, British Columbia, V6T 1Z4, Canada Grupo de Ecologia de Invasiones, Instituto de Investigaciones en Biodiversidad y Medioambiente - Consejo Nacional de Investigaciones Científicas y Técnicas, Universidad Nacional del Comahue-Av. De los Pioneros, Bariloche Rio Negro, CP 8400, Argentina
Gregory M. Crutsinger
Department of Zoology and the Biodiversity Research Centre, University of British Columbia, University Blvd, Vancouver, British Columbia, V6T 1Z4, Canada
Gregory H.R. Henry
Department of Geography and the Biodiversity Research Centre, University of British Columbia, 1984 West Mall, Vancouver, British Columbia, V6T 1Z2, Canada
1Corresponding author (e-mail:


Movement between host plants during the growing season is a common behaviour among insect herbivores, although the mechanisms promoting these movements are poorly understood for many systems. Two possible reasons why insect herbivores relocate include compensating for host plant quantity and/or quality changes and the avoidance of natural enemies. The Arctic caterpillar (Gynaephora groenlandica (Wocke); Lepidoptera: Lymantriidae) moves several metres each day, feeds on its patchily distributed host plant, Arctic willow (Salix arctica Pallas; Salicaceae), and has two main natural enemies, the parasitoids Exorista thula Wood (Diptera: Tachinidae) and Hyposoter diechmanni (Nielsen) (Hymenoptera: Ichneumonidae). We physically moved caterpillars between Arctic willows and restricted other caterpillar individuals each to a single willow throughout the active period of Arctic caterpillars. We found that growth rate, herbivory rate, and the proportion of available leaf fascicles eaten were higher for experimentally moved caterpillars. Parasitoid abundances were low and did not differ between experimentally moved and stationary caterpillars. Taken together, our study addresses the bottom–up and top–down controls on insect herbivore movement during the short duration of the growing season in the Arctic. Our results suggest that caterpillars are likely moving to new willow shrubs to access high quality resources.

Behaviour & Ecology
© Entomological Society of Canada 2016 

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Subject Editor: Chris Schmidt


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