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Environ Entomol. 2009 Jun;38(3):667-76.

Specialized feeding modes promote coexistence of competing herbivores: insights from a metabolic pool model.

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  • 1Department of Integrative Biology, University of California, Berkeley, CA 94720-3140, USA.


Competition theory suggests that a single resource should support one consumer species. However, competitive exclusion may be relaxed by periodic disturbances, temporal or spatial segregation of consumers, or fine-scale resource partitioning. This last mechanism may be especially common for competing phytophagous insects. Unlike many predators, herbivores rarely consume their entire prey item and often have specialized feeding modes on specific plant parts. Thus, different herbivore guilds may "avoid" each other, thereby facilitating their coexistence. I analyzed a simplified metabolic pool model that includes two herbivore types: a "leaf chewer" and a "phloem feeder." Phytophagous insects with the same feeding mode never coexisted, but different guilds may coexist stably-depending on productivity of the carbohydrate pool, allocation to vegetative biomass, and defoliation rate. Differences in herbivore feeding mode are equivalent to fine scale resource partitioning, potentially within the individual plant. Thus, the addition of physiological detail changes the predictions of simple competition models and is relevant to weed biocontrol by informing decisions on which guilds of biocontrol agents to introduce.

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