Herbivore preference drives plant community composition

Kempel, Anne; Razanajatovo, Mialy Harindra; Stein, Claudia; Unsicker, Sybille B.; Auge, Harald; Weisser, Wolfgang W.; Fischer, Markus; Prati, Daniel (2015). Herbivore preference drives plant community composition. Ecology, 96(11), pp. 2923-2934. Ecological Society of America 10.1890/14-2125.1

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Herbivores are important drivers of plant species coexistence and community assembly. However, detailed mechanistic information on how herbivores affect dominance hierarchies between plant species is scarce. Here, we used data of a multi-site herbivore exclusion experiment in grasslands to assess changes in the cover of 28 plant species in response to aboveground pesticide application. Moreover, we assessed species-specific values of plant defense of these 28 species measured as the performance of a generalist caterpillar, and the preference of the caterpillar and a slug species in no-choice and choice feeding experiments, respectively. We show that more preferred species in the feeding experiments were those that increased in cover after herbivore exclusion in the field, whereas less preferred ones decreased. Herbivore performance and several measured leaf traits were not related to the change in plant cover in the field in response to herbivore removal. Additionally, the generalist slug and the generalist caterpillar preferred and disliked the same plant species, indicating that they perceive the balance between defense and nutritional value similarly. We conclude that the growth-defense trade-off in grassland species acts via the preference of herbivores and that among-species variation in plant growth and preference to herbivores drives plant community composition.

Item Type:

Journal Article (Original Article)


08 Faculty of Science > Department of Biology > Institute of Plant Sciences (IPS) > Plant Ecology
08 Faculty of Science > Department of Biology > Institute of Plant Sciences (IPS)

UniBE Contributor:

Kempel, Anne; Razanajatovo, Mialy Harindra; Fischer, Markus and Prati, Daniel


500 Science > 580 Plants (Botany)




Ecological Society of America




Peter Alfred von Ballmoos-Haas

Date Deposited:

30 Jan 2018 08:14

Last Modified:

30 Jan 2018 08:14

Publisher DOI:


Uncontrolled Keywords:

biotic factors; generalist herbivores; growth–defense trade-off; growth-rate hypothesis;herbivore performance; herbivore reference; leaf traits; plant coexistence; plant resistance





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