Leaf Nutritional Content, Tree Richness, and Season Shape the Caterpillar Functional Trait Composition Hosted by Trees

2022-11-29 | journal article. A publication with affiliation to the University of Göttingen.

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​Leaf Nutritional Content, Tree Richness, and Season Shape the Caterpillar Functional Trait Composition Hosted by Trees​
Anttonen, P.; Li, Y.; Chesters, D.; Davrinche, A.; Haider, S.; Bruelheide, H. & Chen, J.-T. et al.​ (2022) 
Insects13(12).​ DOI: https://doi.org/10.3390/insects13121100 

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Anttonen, Perttu; Li, Yi; Chesters, Douglas; Davrinche, Andréa; Haider, Sylvia; Bruelheide, Helge; Chen, Jing-Ting; Wang, Ming-Qiang; Ma, Ke-Ping; Zhu, Chao-Dong; Schuldt, Andreas 
Simple Summary The nutritional content of food plants can, to a large extent, determine the physical attributes of herbivorous insects, from growth rates to the need for defenses against predators. In forests, tree species richness may influence these plant-mediated effects through increasing variation in the nutritional quality that herbivorous insects encounter. Seasonal progression can also shape the plant–herbivore relationship, with lowered leaf quality in later seasons. It is expected that specialist herbivores fare better than generalists in poorer nutritional-quality host plants, whereas generalists can benefit from dietary mixing in more variable neighborhoods. However, a clear understanding of how these factors interact to influence the diversity and functionality across multiple traits of herbivorous insect communities is lacking. In this study, we found support for the expectation of higher generalism of caterpillars in high-nutrition content trees, which also promoted higher abundance but lowered caterpillar species richness and smaller and less defended individuals. Increasing tree richness led to higher caterpillar species sharing between tree species, decreased trait variation, and increased caterpillar species richness per tree species. Our findings shed light on how leaf traits and changes in tree richness interact to influence the trait composition of key herbivores through fine-scale habitat partitioning in host plant neighborhoods. Abstract Nutritional content of host plants is expected to drive caterpillar species assemblages and their trait composition. These relationships are altered by tree richness-induced neighborhood variation and a seasonal decline in leaf quality. We tested how key functional traits related to the growth and defenses of the average caterpillar hosted by a tree species are shaped by nutritional host quality. We measured morphological traits and estimated plant community-level diet breadth based on occurrences from 1020 caterpillars representing 146 species in a subtropical tree diversity experiment from spring to autumn in one year. We focused on interspecific caterpillar trait variation by analyzing presence-only patterns of caterpillar species for each tree species. Our results show that tree richness positively affected caterpillar species-sharing among tree species, which resulted in lowered trait variation and led to higher caterpillar richness for each tree species. However, community-level diet breadth depended more on the nutritional content of host trees. Higher nutritional quality also supported species-poorer but more abundant communities of smaller and less well-defended caterpillars. This study demonstrates that the leaf nutritional quality of trees shapes caterpillar trait composition across diverse species assemblages at fine spatial scales in a way that can be predicted by ecological theory.
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Fakultät für Forstwissenschaften und Waldökologie ; Burckhardt-Institut ; Abteilung Waldnaturschutz 
Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG, German Research Foundation)
University of Chinese Academy of Sciences (UCAS)
Deutsches Zentrum für integrative Biodiversitätsforschung Halle-Jena-Leipzig (German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research (iDiv) Halle-Jena-Leipzig)



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