Tropical forest loss and its multitrophic effects on insect herbivory. uri icon

abstract

  • Forest loss threatens biodiversity, but its potential effects on multitrophic ecological interactions are poorly understood. Insect herbivory depends on complex bottom-up (e.g., resource availability and plant antiherbivore defenses) and top-down forces (e.g., abundance of predators and herbivorous), but its determinants in human-altered tropical landscapes are largely unknown. Using structural equation models, we assessed the direct and indirect effects of forest loss on insect herbivory in 40 landscapes (115ha each) from two regions with contrasting land-use change trajectories in the Brazilian Atlantic rainforest. We considered landscape forest cover as an exogenous predictor and (1) forest structure, (2)abundance of predators (birds and arthropods), and (3) abundance of herbivorous arthropods as endogenous predictors of insect leaf damage. From 12 predicted pathways, 11were significant and showed that (1) leaf damage increases with forest loss (direct effect); (2)leaf damage increases with forest loss through the simplification of vegetation structure and its associated dominance of herbivorous insects (indirect effect); and further demonstrate (3)alack of top-down control of herbivores by predators (birds and arthropods). We conclude that forest loss favors insect herbivory by undermining the bottom-up control (presumably reduced plant antiherbivore defense mechanisms) in forests dominated by fast-growing pioneer plant species, and by improving the conditions required for herbivores proliferation.

publication date

  • 2016
  • 2016