Soybean aphid populations have been hypothesized to respond to nutrient availability in soybean plants. We examined how soil potassium (K) deficiency affects soybean aphid population at both regional and field level scales. First, we measured soil and leaf nutrient levels and monitored soybean aphid populations in 34 production soybean fields throughout Wisconsin. A principle component analysis (PCA) was used to examine the relationship between soil and leaf nutrients and soybean aphid population growth. Results showed that aphid population growth rate was negatively correlated with soil K and P and leaf K, N, P, and S, whereas peak aphid densities were positively correlated with the same suite of soil and leaf nutrients. In a manipulative field experiment, we established low, medium, and high K fertility soybean plots and determined life table parameters of soybean aphids. Aphids developing within clip-cages showed a significantly greater intrinsic rate of population increase and net reproductive rate in the low K treatments in comparison with the medium and high K treatments. In these same plots, naturally colonizing populations of soybean aphids also had significantly higher peak abundance and rate of population increase in the low K treatment compared with medium and high K treatments. In general, these findings indicate that soil K availability and leaf K levels affect plant quality and may play an important role in soybean aphid population dynamics.
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