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Ecology. 2008 Mar;89(3):754-62.

Herbivores and edaphic factors constrain the realized niche of a native plant.

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Center for Population Biology, One Shields Avenue, University of California, Davis, California 95616, USA.


Biotic interactions, such as competition and herbivory, can limit plant species ranges to a subset of edaphically suitable habitats, termed the realized niche. Here we explored the role that herbivores play in restricting the niche of serpentine ecotypes of the native California annual Collinsia sparsiflora. We planted seeds from four populations into a range of natural field environments that varied in the presence/absence of naturally occurring C. sparsiflora and in predicted suitability for growth and survival of the serpentine ecotype of C. sparsiflora. Path analysis was then used to model the direct and herbivore-mediated indirect effects of environmental variables on the survival of C. sparsiflora serpentine ecotypes. We found that C. sparsiflora received more herbivory when planted into areas where serpentine ecotypes of C. sparsiflora were not predicted to persist, and that increased herbivory was associated with decreased survival, suggesting that herbivores may limit the distribution of C. sparsiflora serpentine ecotypes. Additionally, we demonstrated that edaphic environmental variables impacted the survival of C. sparsiflora serpentine ecotypes both directly and indirectly, by altering interactions with herbivores. These indirect effects were probably trait-mediated and probably occurred because edaphic factors may influence plant traits that, in turn, alter attractiveness to herbivores. Although the magnitude of direct effects exceeded the magnitude of indirect effects, many strong herbivore-mediated indirect effects were detected. Thus, interactions between the abiotic environment and insect herbivory contributed to restricting the niche of C. sparsiflora serpentine ecotypes to a subset of available habitat.

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