Insect herbivory and herbivores of Ficus species along a rain forest elevational gradient in Papua New Guinea

Sam, K., Koane, B., Sam, L., Mrazova, A., Segar, S.T., Volf, M., Moos, M., Šimek, P., Sisol, M. and Novotny, V. (2020) Insect herbivory and herbivores of Ficus species along a rain forest elevational gradient in Papua New Guinea. Biotropica.

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Classic research on elevational gradients in plant–herbivore interactions holds that insect herbivore pressure is stronger under warmer climates of low elevations. However, recent work has questioned this paradigm, arguing that it oversimplifies the ecological complexity in which plant–insect herbivore interactions are embedded. Knowledge of antagonistic networks of plants and herbivores is however crucial for understanding the mechanisms that govern ecosystem functioning. We examined herbivore damage and insect herbivores of eight species of genus Ficus (105 saplings) and plant constitutive defensive traits of two of these species, along a rain forest elevational gradient of Mt. Wilhelm (200–2,700 m a.s.l.), in tropical Papua New Guinea. We report overall herbivore damage 2.4% of leaf area, ranging from 0.03% in Ficus endochaete at 1,700 m a.s.l. to 6.1% in F. hombroniana at 700 m a.s.l. Herbivore damage and herbivore abundances varied significantly with elevation, as well as among the tree species, and between the wet and dry season. Community‐wide herbivore damage followed a hump‐shaped pattern with the peak between 700 and 1,200 m a.s.l. and this pattern corresponded with abundance of herbivores. For two tree species surveyed in detail, we observed decreasing and hump‐shaped patterns in herbivory, in general matching the trends found in the set of plant defenses measured here. Our results imply that vegetation growing at mid‐elevations of the elevational gradient, that is at the climatically most favorable elevations where water is abundant, and temperatures still relatively warm, suffers the maximum amount of herbivorous damage which changes seasonally, reflecting the water availability.

Item Type: Article
Keywords: altitudinal gradient, defensive traits, defoliating insects, leaf damage, leaf‐chewers, phytophagy, plant–herbivore interactions top‐down interactions trophic interactions
Divisions: Crop and Environment Sciences (to 31.07.20)
Depositing User: Ms Kath Osborn
Date Deposited: 20 Jan 2020 16:49
Last Modified: 14 Jan 2021 04:30

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