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Caterpillar abundance and parasitism in a seasonally dry versus wet tropical forest of Panama

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  17 December 2010

Heidi Connahs*
Department of Biology, University of North Dakota, Grand Forks, ND, 58202–9019, USA Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, Apartado 0843-03092, Balboa, Ancón, Republic of Panama
Annette Aiello
Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, Apartado 0843-03092, Balboa, Ancón, Republic of Panama
Sunshine Van Bael
Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, Apartado 0843-03092, Balboa, Ancón, Republic of Panama
Genoveva Rodríguez-Castañeda
Landscape Ecology Laboratory, University of Umeå, SwedenSE091-87
1Corresponding author. Email:


Rainfall seasonality can strongly influence biotic interactions by affecting host plant quality, and thus potentially regulating herbivore exposure to natural enemies. Plant defences are predicted to increase from dry to wet forests, rendering wet-forest caterpillars more vulnerable to parasitoids due to the slow-growth-high-mortality hypothesis. We collected and reared caterpillars from the understorey and trail edges of a wet forest and a seasonally dry forest to determine whether wet-forest caterpillars suffered a higher prevalence of parasitism and were less abundant than dry-forest caterpillars. In the two forests, caterpillar abundances (on average 8 h−1) and prevalence of parasitism (18%) were very similar regardless of feeding niche for both parasitism (27% versus 29% in shelter builders, and 16% versus 11% in external feeders) and caterpillar abundances (shelter builders: 1.42 versus 2.39, and external feeders: 8.27 versus 5.49 caterpillars h−1) in the dry and wet forests, respectively. A similar comparative analysis conducted in the canopy and understorey of the dry forest revealed a higher prevalence of parasitism in the canopy (43%) despite caterpillar densities similar to those in the understorey. Overall, shelter builders suffered higher parasitism than external feeders (32% versus 14.9%), and were attacked primarily by flies, whereas external feeders were more vulnerable to attack by parasitoid wasps.

Research Article
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2010

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