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Interactions of Nutrients, Plant Growth and Herbivory in a Mangrove Ecosystem

Onuf, Christopher P., Teal, John M., Valiela, Ivan
Ecology 1977 v.58 no.3 pp. 514-526
Coleoptera, Lepidoptera, Pelecanus, Rhizophora mangle, birds, branches, breeding, buds, ecosystems, environmental management, fruits, islands, larvae, leaves, nesting, nitrogen, nitrogen content, nutrients, nutritive value, phytophagous insects, plant growth, rivers, seedlings, trees, vegetation, Florida
The effect of nutrient enrichment of red mangroves (Rhizophora mangle) was studied by comparing two mangrove—covered islands in the Indian River at Ft. Pierce, Florida, USA, one (high nutrient) with and one (low nutrient) without a breeding colony of pelicans and egrets. Repeated measurements taken on > 100 tagged branches in each area revealed higher growth rates at the high nutrient site. Trees at the high nutrient site showed greater additions of (1) leaves; (2) reproductive parts; (3) new lateral branches; and (4) larger increments to existing stems. Growth in the fertilized stand also began earlier in the year and had a second maximum not shared by the low nutrient area. Both leaves and fruits at the high nutrient site were richer in nitrogen. More striking than the effects on plant growth, however, was the proportionately much greater stimulation of herbivory by insects in response to nutrient enrichment. Larvae of the five lepidopteran species that we observed feeding on buds or leaves were either more abundant or only present in the high nutrient area, as was the scolytid beetle that infested seedlings before they dropped from the parent tree. This difference in herbivory between sites disappeared when the birds seasonally migrated away from their nesting areas at the high nutrient site. This observation and the demonstration that the mangrove skipper Phocides pigmalion attains a higher growth efficiency on high nutrient leaves are both consistent with the hypothesis that increased nutritive value of vegetation (correlated with the increased concentration of nitrogen) is responsible for the 4x greater losses to herbivores in the high nutrient. Implications for environmental management and in more complex communities are discussed.