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Ecology. 2010 Dec;91(12):3707-18.

Herbivores on a dominant understory shrub increase local plant diversity in rain forest communities.

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Department of Biology, University of Nevada, Reno, Nevada 89557, USA.


Indirect effects of trophic interactions on biodiversity can be large and common, even in complex communities. Previous experiments with dominant understory Piper shrubs in a Costa Rican rain forest revealed that increases in herbivore densities on these shrubs caused widespread seedling mortality as a result of herbivores moving from Piper to seedlings of many different plant genera. We tested components of the Janzen-Connell hypothesis by conducting focused studies on the effects of specialist and generalist Piper herbivores on local seedling diversity. Whereas specialist herbivores are predicted to increase mortality to neighboring seedlings that are closely related to the source plant, true generalists moving from source plants may cause density-dependent mortality of many species, and possibly increase richness if new species replace abundant species that have been thinned by herbivores. Therefore, we hypothesized that seedling richness would be greater in understory control plots created in patches of Piper that had normal densities of generalist herbivores compared to plots from which we removed generalist herbivores manually from all Piper shrubs. After 15 months, generalist-herbivore-removal plots had > 40% fewer seedlings, > 40% fewer species, and 40% greater seedling evenness, on average, than control plots with generalist herbivores intact. Using a complementary approach in unmanipulated plots in four forests, we used path analysis to test for a positive association between seedling diversity and herbivore damage on Piper species. In unmanipulated plots, for both generalist and specialist herbivores, our data were significant fits to the causal model that Piper herbivores decrease evenness and increase plant species richness, corroborating the experimental results. Because herbivores changed how individuals were apportioned among the species and families present (lower evenness), one interpretation of these associations between herbivores on Piper shrubs and local seedling richness is that high seedling mortality in dominant families allowed the colonization or survival of less common species. If interspecific or apparent competition allowed for a relative increase in species richness, then the Janzen-Connell hypothesis may extend its predictions to generalist seedling predators. We speculate that apparent competition may explain some of the deviations from neutral model predictions, especially at small scales.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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