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This study presents two years of characterization of a warm temperate rhodolith bed in order to analyse how certain environmental changes influence the community ecology. The biomass of rhodoliths and associated species were analysed during this period and in situ experiments were conducted to evaluate the primary production, calcification and respiration of the dominant species of rhodoliths and epiphytes. The highest total biomass of rhodoliths occurred during austral winter. Lithothamnion crispatum was the most abundant rhodolith species in austral summer. Epiphytic macroalgae occurred only in January 2015, with Padina gymnospora being the most abundant. Considering associated fauna, the biomass of Mollusca increased from February 2015 to February 2016. Population densities of key reef fish species inside and around the rhodolith beds showed significant variations in time. The densities of grouper (carnivores/piscivores) increased in time, especially from 2015 to 2016. On the other hand, grunts (macroinvertebrate feeders) had a modest decrease over time (from 2014 to 2016). Other parameters such as primary production and calcification of L. crispatum were higher under enhanced irradiance, yet decreased in the presence of P. gymnospora. Community structure and physiological responses can be explained by the interaction of abiotic and biotic factors, which are driven by environmental changes over time. Biomass changes can indicate that herbivores play a role in limiting the growth of epiphytes, and this is beneficial to the rhodoliths because it decreases competition for environmental resources with fleshy algae.
Because plant phenotypes can change in response to attacks by herbivores in highly variable ways, the distribution of herbivores depends on the occurrence of other herbivore species on the same plant. We carried out a field study to evaluate the co-occurrence of three coconut pests, the mites Aceria guerreronis (Acari: Eriophyidae), Steneotarsonemus concavuscutum (Acari: Tarsonemidae) and the moth Atheloca bondari (Lepidoptera: Pyralidae). The eriophyid mite Ac. guerreronis is the most important coconut pest around the world, whereas S. concavuscutum and At. bondari are economically important only in some areas along the Brazilian coast. A previous study suggested that the necrosis caused by Ac. guerreronis facilitates the infestation of At. bondari larvae. Because all three species infest the area under the perianths on coconuts and S. concavuscutum also causes necrosis that could facilitate At. bondari, we evaluated the co-occurrence of all three species. We found that the occurrence of At. bondari was positively associated with Ac. guerreronis, but negatively associated with S. concavuscutum. In addition, the two mite species showed negative co-occurrence. Atheloca bondari was found on nuts of all ages, but more on nuts that had fallen than on those on the trees, suggesting that nuts infested by At. bondari tend to fall more frequently. We discuss the status of At. bondari as a pest and discuss experiments to test the causes of these co-occurrence patterns.
Mountain birch forests in the northern areas of Sápmi, the Saami homeland, serve as pastures for semi-domesticated reindeer. Recent reindeer management of the area has, to date, proceeded with little involvement of reindeer herders or their knowledge. To get more in-depth understanding of recent changes, we present together herders’ knowledge and scientific knowledge concerning the impacts of herbivory and climate change on mountain birch forests in three Saami communities in Norway and in Finland. Most of the herders interviewed reported changes in weather during the preceding decades. Herders agreed that the canopy and understorey of mountain birch forests have changed. The observed transformations in the quality of pastures have increased the financial costs of reindeer husbandry. Our study demonstrates that herders have practical knowledge of the present state and recent changes of birch forests, and of the responses of reindeer caused by these. This knowledge generally coincides with scientific knowledge. We call for better integration of knowledge systems and a better protocol for co-production of knowledge as it relates to more adaptive future reindeer management regimes. Such integration will facilitate understanding of cultural adaptation within rapidly changing social-ecological systems in which sustainable reindeer husbandry continues to be an important livelihood.
The willow sawfly, Nematus oligospilus (Förster), is a pest in Salix commercial forests and has been reported worldwide. Female adults must recognize a suitable host plant to oviposit, since her offspring lack the ability to move to another host. We evaluated the effect of conspecific herbivory on the oviposition choices of N. oligospilus females by providing damaged (DP) and undamaged (UP) plants of Salix humboldtiana, a native willow from South America, as oviposition substrates. Local and systemic effects were studied. For the local treatment, a twig from the DP with damaged leaves was contrasted to a twig from a UP in dual choice experiments. For systemic treatment, a twig from the DP with intact leaves was contrasted to a twig from a UP. We estimated the use of olfactory and contact cues by comparing volatile emission of DP and UP, and by analysing the behaviour of the females during host recognition after landing on the leaf surface. In the context of the preference–performance hypothesis (PPH), we also tested if oviposition site selection maximizes offspring fitness by evaluating neonate hatching, larval performance and survival of larvae that were born and bred on either DP or UP. Our results demonstrate that previous conspecific herbivory on S. humboldtiana has a dramatic impact on female oviposition choices and offspring performance of the sawfly N. oligospilus. Females showed a marked preference for laying eggs on UP of S. humboldtiana. This preference was found for both local and systemic treatments. Volatile emission was quantitatively changed after conspecific damage suggesting that it could be related to N. oligospilus avoidance. In the dual choice preference experiments, the analysis of the behaviour of the females once landing on the leaf surface suggested the use of contact cues triggering egg laying on leaves from UP and avoidance of leaves from DP. Furthermore, 48 h of previous conspecific feeding was sufficient to dramatically impair neonate hatching, as well as larval development and survival, suggesting a rapid and effective reaction of the induced resistance mechanisms of the tree. In agreement with the PPH, these results support the idea that decisions made by colonizing females may result in optimal outcomes for their offspring in a barely studied insect model, and also opens the opportunity for studying tree-induced defences in the unexplored South American willow S. humboldtiana.
Subtidal rocky communities in the north-west Atlantic are largely limited to latitudes higher than 40°N due to the lack of substrata at lower latitudes. Communities are species poor relative to the north-east Atlantic, and food webs are generally simple, driven by physical processes including low temperatures, water motion and, for more northern regions, sea ice. Whereas kelp should thrive in shallower waters, grazing by the green sea urchin has led to extensive barren grounds. The dynamics vary, however, among regions of the north-west Atlantic, ranging from a kelp-dominated state in the Gulf of Maine to an urchin-dominated state in the Gulf of Saint Lawrence. Cycling between states has occurred in Atlantic Nova Scotia, where urchins are controlled by a disease process unique to this region. Control by predators may have occurred in the past but overfishing has now functionally removed this factor. Certain invertebrate fisheries have developed, and the American lobster appears to be thriving. Outside of the arena of kelp–urchin interactions, diverse assemblages of invertebrates can be found in habitats that range from shallow water bivalve beds to deep-sea coral reefs. Limitations in the temporal and spatial scope of our knowledge severely hamper our ability to generalise.
Nitrogen-fixing plants provide critical nitrogen inputs that support the high productivity of tropical forests, but our understanding of the ecology of nitrogen fixers – and especially their interactions with herbivores – remains incomplete. Herbivores may interact differently with nitrogen fixers vs. non-fixers due to differences in leaf nitrogen content and herbivore defence strategies. To examine these potential differences, our study compared leaf carbon, nitrogen, toughness, chemical defence and herbivory for four nitrogen-fixing tree species (Inga oerstediana, Inga sapindoides, Inga thibaudiana and Pentaclethra macroloba) and three non-fixing species (Anaxagorea crassipetala, Casearia arborea and Dipteryx panamensis) in a lowland tropical rain forest. Leaf chemical defence, not nutritional content, was the primary driver of herbivore damage among our species. Even though nitrogen fixers exhibited 21.1% higher leaf nitrogen content, 20.1% lower C:N ratios and 15.4% lower leaf toughness than non-fixers, we found no differences in herbivory or chemical defence between these two plant groups. Our results do not support the common hypotheses that nitrogen fixers experience preferential herbivory or that they produce more nitrogen-rich defensive compounds than non-fixers. Rather, these findings suggest strong species-specific differences in plant–herbivore relationships among both nitrogen-fixing and non-fixing tropical trees.
Leaf-cutting ants are dominant herbivores in Neotropical rain forests, and their colony densities increase in disturbed habitats such as forest edges. However, while it is well-established that leaf-cutting ants profit from changes to the food-plant community, the phylogenetic dimension of this ant–plant interaction remains poorly understood in fragmented forests. We studied diet composition of Atta cephalotes in the edge and interior of Atlantic forest in north-east Brazil (8°30′S, 35°50′W). We applied phylogenetic signal analysis to investigate the diet across plant lineages and performed phylogenetic generalized linear models to analyse the diet in both habitats. We found a phylogenetic signal in diet and in leaf mechanical resistance, which means that A. cephalotes selects closely related food plants with less resistant leaves. Most preferred species belong to Malpighiales, Rubiaceae and Melastomataceae. We also found that irrespective of phylogeny, ants select food plants with less resistant leaves, both in edge and interior. However, ants choose more abundant plants only in edges. High abundance of optimal diet facilitates foraging in forest edges and explains why colony densities increase in disturbed habitats. Finally, by favouring or disfavouring specific clades, leaf-cutting ants contribute to changes in the phylogenetic structure of tropical rain forests, e.g. phylogenetic impoverishment.
Chemically defended benthic macroalgae that dominate shallow, hard bottom communities along the western Antarctic Peninsula support very high densities of mesograzers, particularly amphipods but also small gastropods. Previous studies have demonstrated that the macroalgae and amphipods form a mutualistic relationship. The chemically defended macroalgae provide the amphipods with a refuge from predation while the macroalgae benefit from the amphipods greatly reducing surface fouling by smaller algae. One of the three most important macroalgae in terms of overstory cover, Himantothallus grandifolius, forms huge blades that can carpet the benthos. Field observations suggest that gastropods may be higher in relative abundance in proportion to amphipods on H. grandifolius than on other overstory macroalgae. The present study documents the finding that natural abundances of gastropods on H. grandifolius maintained in mesocosms reduce fouling by microscopic algae, primarily diatoms. However, amphipods are probably also important in keeping the macroalga clean of diatoms in nature. In a smaller scale experiment, three gastropod species were differentially effective at reducing diatom coverage on H. grandifolius. The hypothesis that gastropods benefit from associating with H. grandifolius in potentially gaining a refuge from sea-star predation was also tested but not supported by the experimental results.
Selective browsing by abundant, generalist herbivores on preferred species could allow less-preferred invasive species to flourish. We tested such an effect by examining rates at which white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus Zimmermann) consume Amur honeysuckle [Lonicera maackii (Rupr.) Herder], an invasive shrub, relative to native woody species across eight forested sites in southwestern Ohio. We tested three hypotheses: (1) deer prefer to browse on L. maackii versus other woody plants; (2) L. maackii is not a preferred source of browse, but is consumed where preferred foods are scarce; and (3) L. maackii provides an important food resource for deer in early spring when other foods are scarce. We used counts of browsed and unbrowsed twigs of each species to calculate, for each site, both the proportion of each species’ twigs browsed and the degree to which deer selectively favor each species (“electivity”) during early to mid-growing season. Across the eight sites, electivity of L. maackii correlated with the proportion of its twigs browsed, and both measures were negatively associated with the density of L. maackii twigs. Lonicera maackii electivity was negative at most sites, indicating it is generally not preferred, undermining hypothesis 1. The hypothesis that deer consume L. maackii when more-preferred foods are depleted was not supported, as there was no negative relationship between L. maackii browse and the density of twigs of more-preferred species. We found a negative relationship between the proportion of L. maackii twigs browsed and the density of L. maackii among sites, which supports the third hypothesis. This finding, combined with seasonal patterns of deer browse on L. maackii, indicates that this invasive shrub is an important source of browse for deer during early spring, regardless of its abundance.
We tested the sulfur-modulated plant resistance hypothesis using potted cabbage (Brassica oleracea var. capitata) plants that were grown without and with increasing levels of sulfur fertilization. Changes in plant chemical traits were assessed and developmental performance of Plutella xylostella, a highly host-specific leaf-chewing insect, was followed. Leaf sulfur concentration gradually increased with growing addition of sulfur in soil; however, there was a generalized saturation response curve, with a plateau phase, for improvements in total leaf nitrogen, defense glucosinolates and insect performance. Plutella xylostella performed better in sulfur-fertilized cabbage probably because of the higher level of nitrogen, despite of the higher content of glucosinolates, which are toxic for many non-specialized insects. Despite the importance of sulfur in plant nutrition and production, especially for Brassica crops, our results showed that sulfur fertilization could decrease plant resistance against insects with high feeding specialization.
Invasive algae can have substantial negative impacts in their invaded ranges. One widely cited mechanism that attempts to explain how invasive plants and algae are often able to spread quickly, and even become dominant in their invaded ranges, is the Enemy Release Hypothesis. This study assessed the feeding behaviours of two species of gastropod herbivore from populations exposed to the invasive alga Sargassum muticum for different lengths of time. Feeding trials, consisting of both choice and no-choice, showed that the herbivores from older stands (35–40 years established) of S. muticum were more likely to feed upon it than those taken from younger (10–19 years established) stands. These findings provide evidence in support of the ERH, by showing that herbivores consumed less S. muticum if they were not experienced with it. These findings are in accordance with the results of other feeding-trials with S. muticum, but in contrast to research that utilizes observations of herbivore abundance and diversity to assess top-down pressure. The former tend to validate the ERH, and the latter typically reject it. The potential causes of this disparity are discussed, as are the importance of palatability, herbivore species and time-since-invasion when considering research into the ERH. This study takes an important, yet neglected, approach to the study of invasive ecology.
Belize contains important habitat for Antillean manatees (Trichechus manatus manatus) and provides refuge for the highest known population density of this subspecies. As these animals face impending threats, knowledge of their dietary habits can be used to interpret resource utilization. The contents of 13 mouth, six digestive tract (stomach, duodenum and colon) and 124 faecal samples were microscopically examined using a modified point technique detection protocol to identify key plant species consumed by manatees at two important aggregation sites in Belize: Southern Lagoon and the Drowned Cayes. Overall, 15 different items were identified in samples from manatees in Belize. Five species of seagrasses (Halodule wrightii, Thalassia testudinum, Ruppia maritima, Syringodium filiforme and Halophila sp.) made up the highest percentage of items. The red mangrove (Rhizophora mangle) was also identified as an important food item. Algae (Ulva sp., Chara sp., Lyngbya sp.) and invertebrates (sponges and diatoms) were also consumed. Variation in the percentage of seagrasses, other vascular plants and algae consumption was analysed as a 4-factor analysis of variance (ANOVA) with main effects and interactions for locality, sex, size classification and season. While sex and season did not influence diet composition, differences for locality and size classification were observed. These results suggest that analysis of diet composition of Antillean manatees may help to determine critical habitat and use of associated food resources which, in turn, can be used to aid conservation efforts in Belize.
Many species of palm produce chambers called domatia that are used by ants as nesting spaces. However, the ecological nature of this association is not well understood, and the information on palm–ant interactions is primarily anecdotal. Here, we conducted a field study in the secondary forest of the Danum Valley Conservation Area, Malaysian Borneo, on 41 individuals of the rattan Korthalsia furtadoana. All studied plants showed signs of a past or present partnership with domatia-nesting ants, as indicated by entry holes in domatia. In 14 plants, our physical disturbance of a stem provoked the appearance of patrolling ants of Camponotus sp. We compared the leaf conditions of rattans with and without patrolling ants, testing whether the presence of ants is linked to improved leaf health. The leaflets of plants with patrolling ants were significantly less physically damaged and less covered by epiphylls. On average, 19% of the leaflets of plants with patrolling ants were damaged (52% in plants without patrolling ants), and the epiphyll cover of their leaflets was 0.2 on our scale of 0–4 (1.3 in plants without patrolling ants). Our results suggest that this poorly studied plant–ant association has a mutualistic character. It seems that the ants take advantage of the nesting space created by the plant partner, while the plants gain protection for their photosynthetic apparatus against herbivores and epiphylls.
Herbivores are predicted to forage on a variety of plants in order to obtain a nutritionally sufficient diet. Most herbivores, however, forage non-randomly and may be influenced by morphological, chemical and physical traits in their food. We examined the influence of several leaf traits on food selection for the Exuma rock iguana (Cyclura cychlura figginsi). We expected the iguana to prefer leaves with higher nutrient concentration and lower physical defences, such as reflected by high N, P, Ca, K, Mg concentrations and low leaf density and per cent concentrations of cellulose, hemicellulose and lignin, respectively. We quantified selection by examining 30 faecal samples and analysing traits of leaves from the 10 most common plants on the island. Our results showed substantial variability in all measured traits among species but food preference only for less-dense leaves, a good indicator of low leaf toughness. Our results are the first to demonstrate that physical leaf traits can influence food selection in a true herbivorous lizard and offer a basis for future testing.
Many rangelands of the world are fire dependent and display a strong interaction between fire and grazing on animal behavior, productivity and ecosystem processes. The application of this fire–grazing interaction as patch-burn grazing (PBG) has recently been promoted in North America to conserve biodiversity and as an alternative for livestock management in fire-prone ecosystems to enhance forage quality and other production benefits. PBG is functionally applied by burning spatially and temporally discrete patches to allow livestock to choose where and when to graze. However, considering that the primary intent of PBG in fire-dependent ecosystems has been for the conservation of biodiversity, we synthesized the peer-reviewed literature to assess PBG as an alternative strategy for livestock management in fire-prone ecosystems. We reviewed the literature to assess PBG as an alternative livestock management approach to optimize animal production and conserve biodiversity in fire-prone ecosystems. We reviewed the results of 83 studies that focused on two main areas: (1) livestock production and inputs and (2) maintaining or improving ecosystem functioning and biodiversity to support sustainable livestock production. PBG can optimize cattle production by offsetting input costs such as supplemental feed, insecticides, herbicides, mechanical brush control, veterinary costs and cross-fencing. PBG can also maintain native herbaceous plant communities that are the resource base for cattle grazing enterprises by reducing woody plant encroachment, stimulating above- and below-ground biomass of native perennial grasses, enhancing nutrient cycling and optimizing plant diversity. PBG creates a habitat mosaic critical for many trophic levels of wildlife, particularly grassland birds, which are currently in decline. Further research is needed to clarify the potential environmental gradients defining applicability of PBG, economic outcomes of PBG, potential gastro-intestinal parasite control with PBG and other metrics of animal production. Overall, PBG is a viable management approach to improve productivity and biodiversity in fire-regulated grassland ecosystems in a manner supported by both fire and grazing disturbances. This is especially true when these communities have other organisms that depend on periodic disturbance and interaction with large animal grazing and is supported by ample empirical research.
Amphibian populations have been declining worldwide, with multiple potential causes. At La Selva field station in north-eastern Costa Rica, previous work has shown that populations of many amphibians have decreased significantly since the 1970s, especially in primary forest. Starting in 1998, we investigated one of the most common frog species at La Selva, the poison-dart frog Oophaga pumilio (= Dendrobates pumilio). In a survey of 50 plots of 100 m2 in 1998, adult frogs were 4.6 times more abundant in secondary forest than in primary forest. Tadpoles were found only in secondary-forest plots. Almost all (89%) of the tadpoles were found in leaf axils of Dieffenbachia spp., which were much more abundant in secondary-forest than in primary-forest plots. The greater abundance of Dieffenbachia spp. in secondary forest was confirmed in a broad survey of ~11 km of trails within La Selva in 2002. When the same trails were resampled in 2012, Dieffenbachia spp. had been extirpated from 72% of the 50-m segments where plants were present in 2002; abundance was greatly reduced in the few trail segments where any Dieffenbachia spp. remained in 2012. The loss of Dieffenbachia spp., especially in secondary forest, removed the species most often used by O. pumilio for tadpole rearing. Based on counts of calling frogs in 2010, there was no difference in O. pumilio abundance in primary versus secondary forest, in striking contrast to multiple earlier surveys that found much greater frog abundance in secondary forest. We propose that the reason for the rapid decline in Dieffenbachia spp. is herbivory by the collared peccary (Pecari tajacu), which has increased in abundance at La Selva in recent years. A likely consequence is continued reduction in O. pumilio populations.
Predicting site vulnerability to nonnative plant establishment remains a difficult goal. Seedling survival is an important component of population dynamics and can affect the success of control strategies. Field manipulations allow potential causal mechanisms of site vulnerability to be evaluated under realistic environmental conditions. We conducted field studies to determine the effects of plant competition and differing precipitation regimes on spotted knapweed seedling survival. We also examined the effect of herbivory on rosette survival and growth. Seeds were sown into plots with vegetation intact or removed at three sites. Seeds were also sown into plots where plant competition and precipitation were manipulated in a factorial design at a single site. Field studies demonstrated that site accounted for much of the variation in emergence rate, while herbivory and plant competition affected seedling survival rates. We observed a wide range in emergence rates, with site averages ranging from 13.1 to 42.5%. Survival the following year ranged from 0.5 to 9.4% of sown seeds. Rosette survival was significantly higher when herbivores were excluded from plots. Below average precipitation reduced seedling survival; however, even with supplemental water, dry-down of exposed sites resulted in low seedling survival. Of the 8,000 seeds added to plots in one study, by autumn, only eight plants resulted, seven of which survived in watered plots with intact vegetation. Collectively, these results show that seedling survival is a critical phase in spotted knapweed population dynamics and can vary among habitats on the basis of plant competition and precipitation. Furthermore, herbivory affects all stages of the lifecycle from the seedling onward. The observed differences help explain the reported variability in seedling survival in the literature and inform efforts to control spotted knapweed using plant competition and biological controls.
Two factors that can degrade native plant community composition and structure, and hinder restoration efforts, are invasive species and chronic overbrowsing by ungulates such as white-tailed deer. Beginning in 2007, the effectiveness, costs, and impacts of Japanese barberry control treatments and herbivory on nonnative and native plant communities was examined at eight study areas over 4 to 5 yr. Prescribed burning and mechanical mowing by wood shredder or brush saw were utilized as initial treatments to reduce the aboveground portion of established barberry and were equally effective. Without a follow-up treatment, barberry had recovered to 56 to 81% of pretreatment levels 50 to 62 mo after initial treatment. Follow-up treatments in mid-summer to kill new sprouts included directed heating and foliar herbicide applications. Relative to untreated controls, follow-up treatments lowered barberry cover 50 to 62 mo after initial treatment by at least 72%. Although all follow-up treatments were equally effective, the labor cost of directed heating was four times higher than for herbicide applications. Follow-up treatment type (directed heating vs. herbicide) had minimal impact on species other than barberry. White-tailed deer herbivory had a larger impact on other species than did barberry control treatments. Native grass and fern cover was higher outside of exclosures. Areas inside exclosures had higher cover of Oriental bittersweet and multiflora rose, but not Japanese barberry. Thus, recovery of native communities will require more than simply removing the dominant invasive species where deer densities are high. Excellent reduction of Japanese barberry cover can be achieved using either directed heating or herbicides as follow-up treatments in a two-step process, but other invasive plants may become a problem when barberry is removed if deer populations are low.
Insectivorous birds and bats often protect plants through density- and trait-mediated cascades, but the degree to which insectivores reduce herbivorous arthropods and leaf damage varies among systems. Top-down interaction strength may be influenced by the biotic and abiotic context, including the presence of vegetation-disturbing animals. We tested two hypotheses: (1) insectivorous birds and bats initiate trophic cascades in tropical rain-forest understorey; and (2) the native, omnivorous collared peccary (Pecari tajacu) negates these cascades via non-trophic effects. We studied the top-down effects of birds and bats on understorey plants in north-eastern Costa Rica using 60 netted exclosures within and outside existing peccary exclosures. Excluding birds and bats increased total arthropod densities by half, both with and without peccaries. Bird/bat exclosures increased Diptera density by 28% and leaf damage by 24% without peccaries, consistent with a trophic cascade. However, bird/bat exclosures decreased Diptera density by 32% and leaf damage by 34% with peccaries, a negation of the trophic cascade. Excluding peccaries increased leaf damage by 43% on plants without birds and bats. This is the first study, to our knowledge, to demonstrate that the non-trophic activity of an omnivorous ungulate can reverse a trophic cascade.