Canopy cover mediates interactions between a specialist caterpillar and seedlings of a neotropical tree

Norghauer, Julian Martin; Malcolm, Jay R.; Zimmerman, Barbara L. (2007). Canopy cover mediates interactions between a specialist caterpillar and seedlings of a neotropical tree. Journal of Ecology, 96(1), pp. 103-113. Blackwell 10.1111/j.1365-2745.2007.01325.x

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1 Light availability may be crucial for understanding dynamics of plant–herbivore interactions in temperate and tropical forest communities. This is because local light availability can influence both tree seedling tolerance and susceptibility to herbivory – yet how they mediate levels of insect herbivory that vary with the density of host population is virtually unknown. Here we tested predictions of three key, non-mutually exclusive hypotheses of plant–herbivore interactions: the Limiting Resource Model (LRM), the Plant Vigour Hypothesis (PVH), and the Janzen-Connell Mechanism (JCM).
2 In an Amazonian forest, we planted Swietenia macrophylla seedlings (c. 5 months old) into natural canopy gaps and the shaded understorey and simulated the damage patterns of the specialist herbivore moth, Steniscadia poliophaea, by clipping seedling leaves. Over the next 8 months, we monitored seedling performance in terms of growth and survivorship and also quantified herbivory to new young leaves on a seasonal basis.
3 In support of the LRM, severe leaf damage (≥ 50%) was lethal for Swietenia macrophylla seedlings in the understorey, but in gaps only reduced seedling growth. In support of the PVH, gap seedlings suffered greater post-simulated herbivory (up to 100% defoliation) by S. poliophaea caterpillars than their understorey counterparts.
4 Adding a novel dimension to the Janzen–Connell hypothesis, we found that early wet season herbivory of seedlings in gaps increased with conspecific adult density within a 125-m radius; whereas in the understorey only those seedlings within 50 m of a Swietenia tree were attacked by caterpillars.
5 Synthesis. These results suggest lepidopterans that need young leaves for food may forage more widely in forests to find seedlings in light-rich canopy gaps. Moths may achieve this successfully by being first attracted to gaps, and then searching within them for suitable hosts. A conceptual model, integrating conspecific adult tree density with light-driven changes in seedling tolerance/vigour and their susceptibility to herbivory and mortality, is presented. Spatial variation in the light available to tree seedlings often affects their tolerance and vigour, which may have important consequences for leaf-chewing insects and the scale of density-dependent herbivory in forests.

Item Type:

Journal Article (Original Article)


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

UniBE Contributor:

Norghauer, Julian Martin


500 Science > 580 Plants (Botany)








Peter Alfred von Ballmoos-Haas

Date Deposited:

24 Nov 2015 16:25

Last Modified:

24 Nov 2015 16:25

Publisher DOI:


Uncontrolled Keywords:

Amazon forest, big-leaf mahogany, caterpillar herbivory, density-dependent folivory, Janzen–Connell, light gaps, Limiting Resource Model, Plant Vigour Hypothesis, seedling growth and mortality, Swietenia macrophylla




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