Investigations of plant-herbivore interactions continue to be popular; however, a bias neglecting root feeders may limit our ability to understand how herbivores shape plant life histories. Root feeders can cause dramatic plant population declines, often associated with secondary stress factors such as drought or grazing. These severe impacts resulted in substantial interest in root feeders as agricultural pests and increasingly as biological weed control agents, particularly in North America. Despite logistical difficulties, establishment rates in biocontrol programs are equal or exceed those of aboveground herbivores (67.2% for aboveground herbivores, 77.5% for belowground herbivores) and root feeders are more likely to contribute to control (53.7% versus 33.6%). Models predicting root feeders would be negatively affected by competitively superior aboveground herbivores may be limited to early successional habitats or generalist root feeders attacking annual plants. In later successional habitats, root feeders become more abundant and appear to be the more potent force in driving plant performance and plant community composition. Aboveground herbivores, even at high population levels, were unable to prevent buildup of root herbivore populations and the resulting population collapse of their host plants. Significant information gaps exist about the impact of root feeders on plant physiology and secondary chemistry and their importance in natural areas, particularly in the tropics.


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  • Article Type: Review Article
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