The herbivorous spider mite Tetranychus urticae usually remains on the lower leaf surfaces of its host plants. Although terrestrial animals are generally thought to be well protected from damage because of UV radiation, insect herbivory frequently increases when solar UV-B (280–315 nm) radiation is attenuated. As UV transmission through leaves is generally low because of the accumulation of compounds that act as selective sunscreens (e.g., phenolics), we hypothesized that T. urticae avoids solar UV-B radiation by staying on lower leaf surfaces. We examined whether artificial UV irradiation and solar UV affected the survival and reproduction of T. urticae and whether staying on lower leaf surfaces was beneficial to their performance under ambient UV radiation. We found that T. urticae was not well protected from UV-B radiation, because artificial UV-B irradiation strongly decreased survivorship and egg production. More importantly; compulsory solar UV irradiation treatments also had lethal effects on T. urticae, whereas the mites could avoid them if they remained on the lower leaf surfaces of their host plants. These results showed that access to habitats protected from sunlight, such as lower leaf surfaces, is likely essential for T. urticae survival under ambient UV-B radiation. The lethal effects of solar UV radiation may also affect the population dynamics of spider mites, and habitat (resource) limitation may increase the probability of interspecific interactions, such as competition and predation. In turn, the occurrence of these interactions in sheltered areas may be associated with observed increases in herbivory under conditions of solar UV-B-attenuation.
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