Does plant diversity increase top–down control of herbivorous insects in tropical forest?
Higher trophic level interactions are key mediators of ecosystem functioning in tropical forests. A rich body of theory has been developed to predict the effects of plant diversity on communities at higher trophic levels and the mechanisms underlying such effects. The ’enemies hypothesis’ states that predators exert more effective top–down control of herbivorous insects with increasing plant diversity. Support for this hypothesis has been found in temperate forests and agroecosystems, but remains understudied in tropical forests. We compared incidence of attacks of different natural enemies using artificial caterpillars in a tropical forest landscape and investigated the role of plant community structure (i.e. species richness, composition and density), and the role of forest fragmentation (i.e. patch size, edge distance and canopy openness) on predation intensity. Plant community effects were tested with respect to three vegetation strata: trees, saplings and herbs. Observed predation was substantially due to ants. Predation rates increased with plant species richness for trees and herbs. Density of saplings, herb cover and herb species composition were important factors for predation. No significant patterns were found for fragmentation parameters, suggesting that forest fragmentation has not altered predation intensity. We conclude that in tropical forests, top–down control of herbivorous insects in the understory vegetation is affected by a combination of plant diversity, plant species composition and structural features of the plant community.
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