Information on the effects of enriched CO2 on both the chemical composition of plants and the consequences of such changes for performance of a herbivore and its predator is an important first step in understanding the responses of plants and insects to global environmental change. We examined interactions across three trophic levels, cotton, Gossypium hirsutum, an aphid herbivore, Aphis gossypii Glover, and a coccinellid predator, Propylaea japonica (Thunberg), as affected by elevated CO2 concentrations and crop cultivars. Plant carbon:nitrogen (C:N) ratios, condensed tannin, and gossypol content were significantly higher, and nitrogen content was significantly lower in plants exposed to elevated CO2 levels compared with that in plants exposed to ambient CO2. Cotton aphid survivorship significantly increased and free fatty acid content decreased with increased CO2 concentrations. No significant differences in survival and lifetime fecundity of P. japonica were observed between cultivars and CO2 concentration treatments. However, stage-specific larval durations of the lady beetle were significantly longer when fed aphids from elevated CO2 concentrations. Our results indicate that high gossypol in the cotton host plant had an antibiotic effect on A. gossypii and produced a positive effect on growth and development of P. japonica at the third trophic level. However, elevated CO2 concentrations showed a negative effect on P. japonica. We speculate that A. gossypii may become a more serious pest under an environment with elevated CO2 concentrations because of increased survivorship of aphid and longer development time of lady beetle.
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