SP 8: Herbivory

The role of herbivory in mediating ecosystem functions in species-rich forests

Principal investigator(s):

Dr. Andreas Schuldt (University of Lueneburg)  

Contact adress:

Leuphana University Lüneburg, Institute  of Ecology, Scharnhorststraße 1, 21335 Lüneburg, Germany


Herbivory strongly affects ecosystem functions and can help to maintain patterns of tree diversity in species-rich forests. Results from the Comparative Study Plots (CSPs) of the BEF-China project in secondary forest stands show that herbivory patterns change with increasing plant diversity and underscore the potential impact of herbivory on the coexistence of woody plant species. In the third stage, I want to extend the scope to the project’s experimental sites and link herbivory to specific functions of species-rich forests. This will be achieved by synthesizing an extensive dataset on herbivore damage, plant growth, plant traits and their interrelations with tree diversity and environmental conditions. I hypothesize that while herbivory strongly affects ecosystem functions such as plant growth, both at the level of individual trees and across plots, effects are dependent on the richness and functional diversity of the plant communities. Moreover, the phylogenetic composition of the plant communities (which might in part be independent of species richness), as well as environmental conditions that vary across plots, will modify the relationship between herbivory, ecosystem functions and tree diversity. Direct manipulation of herbivory, and additional experiments on herbivore-pathogen interactions, resource quality effects and density-dependence patterns in the so-called ‘BEFmod’ approach at both experimental sites of the BEF China project will yield additional information for a direct quantification and mechanistic understanding of diversity-dependent herbivory effects on ecosystem functions.

Leaf chewing herbivores, such as these caterpillars, cause significant leaf damage on tree samplings (A. Schuldt)