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Ecol Appl. 2008 Jun;18(4):821-5.

Birds defend oil palms from herbivorous insects.

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  • 1Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Princeton University, 106A Guyot Hall, Princeton, New Jersey 08544, USA.


Top-down forces are expected to be important in regulating herbivore populations in most agricultural systems where primary productivity is high and species diversity is low. Under such conditions, trophic cascades are predicted to occur when predator populations are reduced or removed. Studies on how predator removal indirectly affects herbivory rates in agricultural systems are lacking. Through a bird-exclosure experiment, I test the hypothesis that insectivorous birds indirectly defend oil palms (Elaeis guineensis) from herbivorous insects. Results show that bird exclusion significantly increased herbivory damage to oil palms, and that the size of this exclusion effect increased with bird density, although the latter result was not statistically significant. These findings suggest that insectivorous birds deliver a natural pest control service for oil palm agriculture, which is important not only for the direct benefits it delivers for human welfare, but also in strengthening the economic justifications for conserving the remaining natural habitats and biodiversity in agricultural landscapes.

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