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Increased temperature causes protein limitation by reducing the efficiency of nitrogen digestion in the ectothermic herbivore Spodoptera exigua


For insect herbivores, rising temperatures lead to exponentially higher metabolic rates. As a result, basic nutritional demands for protein and carbohydrates can be altered at high temperatures. It is hypothesized that temperature‐driven increases in metabolic nitrogen turnover will exacerbate protein limitation by increasing metabolic nitrogen demand. To test this hypothesis, the present study examines whether metabolic nitrogen turnover at higher temperatures causes protein limitation of a generalist herbivore, the beet armyworm Spodoptera exigua Hübner (Lepidoptera : Noctuidae). Third‐instar S. exigua larvae were reared at 25 and 30 °C on three artificial diets of varying protein : carbohydrate ratios (23 : 26, 17 : 26 and 6 : 26 %P : %C, respectively) and their growth rates, metabolic nitrogen demand and consumption rates were measured. Warming was found to lead to temperature‐induced protein limitation of the S. exigua larvae by increasing metabolic nitrogen demand at the same time as reducing nitrogen digestion efficiency. Because climate change is increasing atmospheric temperatures rapidly worldwide, it is suggested that a better understanding of how temperature change can influence metabolic demands will provide key information for predicting herbivore growth rates and foraging strategies in the future.