Contrasting patterns of insect herbivory and predation pressure across a tropical rainfall gradient
Weissflog A., Markesteijn L., Lewis OT., Comita LS., Engelbrecht BMJ.
© 2017 The Association for Tropical Biology and Conservation Abstract: One explanation for the extraordinarily high tree diversity of tropical lowland forests is that it is maintained by specialized natural enemies such as insect herbivores, which cause distance and density dependent mortality. Insect herbivory could also explain the positive correlation between tree species richness and rainfall if herbivory increases with rainfall, is higher on locally abundant versus rare species, and is not limited by predation pressure at wet sites. To test these predictions, insect herbivory and predation pressure on insect herbivores were quantified across a Neotropical rainfall and tree species richness gradient, and herbivory was investigated in relation to local tree abundances. Insect herbivory on leaves (folivory) decreased strongly and significantly with rainfall, while predation pressure was significantly higher at the wetter site. Herbivores were more likely to attack abundant tree species, but herbivore damage levels were not related to tree species abundance. Insect folivores might contribute to local tree species coexistence in our system, but seem unlikely to drive the positive correlation between tree species richness and rainfall. The unexpected and contrasting patterns of herbivory and predation we observed support the need for a multi-trophic perspective to understand fully the processes contributing to diversity and ecosystem functioning.