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Spatial Variation in the Strength of a Trophic Cascade Involving Ruellia nudiflora (Acanthaceae), an Insect Seed Predator and Associated Parasitoid Fauna in Mexico

Abdala-Roberts, Luis, Parra-Tabla, Víctor, Salinas-Peba, Luis, Díaz-Castelazo, Cecilia, Delfín-González, Hugo
Biotropica 2010 v.42 no.2 pp. 180-187
Ruellia nudiflora, community structure, fauna, fruit growing, fruits, herbivores, larvae, moths, parasitoids, plant reproduction, predators, seeds, Mexico
Spatial variation in the strength of herbivore top-down control represents an important source of variation in plant fitness measures and community structure and function. By measuring seed predator (larvae of a Noctuid moth) and parasitoid impacts on Ruellia nudiflora across a broad spatial scale in Yucatan (Mexico), this study addressed the following: (1) to what extent does seed predator and parasitoid attack intensity associated with R. nudiflora vary spatially? (2) Does parasitoid attack result in a positive indirect effect on the plant, and does the intensity of this effect vary spatially? During the peak of fruit production (late June-early July) of 2005, we collected fruits from 21 R. nudiflora populations and grouped them into four regions: center, east, north and south. For each fruit we recorded: observed seed number, number of seeds eaten, seed predator presence, parasitoid presence and number of seeds 'saved' by parasitoids. Seed predators attacked ca 30 percent of fruits/plant on average, while parasitoids were found in 24 percent of seed predator-attacked fruits. Results indicated spatial variation in seed predator and parasitoid attack levels; interestingly, a contrasting spatial gradient of attack intensity was observed: populations/regions with greatest parasitoid attack levels usually had the lowest seed predator attack levels and vice versa, suggesting top-down control of parasitoids on seed predators. We observed a weak overall indirect impact of parasitoids on R. nudiflora (4% seeds 'saved' on average), which nonetheless varied strongly across populations (e.g., close to 14% seeds saved at one population). Findings indicate a geographical structuring of interaction strengths across populations, as well as spatial variation in the strength of parasitoid cascading effects on plant reproduction.