Herbivorous insects are often exposed to broad temporal and spatial variations in microclimate conditions within their host plants and have adapted a variety of behaviors, such as avoidance or basking, to either offset or benefit from such variation. Field experiments were carried out to investigate the influence of daily and intratree variations in microclimate on the behaviors (feeding, resting, dispersal, and hiding) and associated performance of late-instar larvae of the yellowheaded spruce sawfly, Pikonema alaskensis (Rohwer) (Hymenoptera: Tenthredinidae) within crowns of 1.25–1.5 m tall black spruce (Picea mariana [Miller] Britton Sterns Poggenburg); late instars feed on developing shoots of young spruce and are often exposed to microclimatic extremes with unknown effects on performance. Larvae fed diurnally from just after dawn (0800 h) until dusk (2000 h) and rested throughout the night, with brief periods of dispersal occurring in the morning and evening. Neither larval behavior nor abiotic conditions differed significantly between the upper and lower crowns of trees. Temperature, humidity, and solar insolation all explained >90% of variation in feeding; however, sunrise and sunset were the most likely cues influencing diurnal behavior. Most larvae (94%) fed on the bottom, shaded side of shoots, and field experiments indicated that this behavior is adaptive with respect to microclimate, probably reducing hygrothermal stress. Thus, behavioral adaptations by P. alaskensis to daily and within-shoot microclimatic variation may reduce the risk of hygrothermal stress during dispersal or feeding, while still allowing larvae to feed on the preferred and highly nutritious upper crown foliage of young spruce.
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Vol. 41 • No. 3