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What makes a good neighborhood? Interaction of spatial scale and fruit density in the predator satiation dynamics of a masting juniper tree

Mezquida, Eduardo T., Olano, José Miguel
Oecologia 2013 v.173 no.2 pp. 483-492
Juniperus thurifera, correlation, crop year, fruit crops, fruit growing, fruit trees, fruits, mites, predators, satiety, seed predation, seeds
Spatio-temporal variability in fruit production (masting) has been regarded as a key mechanism to increase plant fitness by reducing seed predation. However, considerably more effort has been devoted into understanding the consequences of temporal rather than spatial variations in fruit crop for plant fitness. In order to simultaneously evaluate both components, we quantify fruit production and pre-dispersal damage by three arthropod species (mites, chalcid wasps and moths) in the Spanish juniper (Juniperus thurifera) during 3 years in a spatially explicit context. Our aims were to assess (1) the interaction between fruit production and pre-dispersal fruit damage by arthropods, (2) the potential interference or competition between arthropods, and (3) the form of the phenotypic selection exerted by arthropods on fruit traits considering the spatial context. Arthropods damaged a substantial fraction of fruits produced by Spanish juniper with levels of damage showing sharp inter-annual variations. Fruit damage by mites was negatively related to yearly fruit crop and positively correlated at individual trees fruiting in consecutive years. Increased interspecific interference was an additional consequence of reduced fruit availability during small crop years. During a masting year, fruit damage by less mobile species such as mites was negatively affected by tree crop size, and no spatial structure was observed for mite damage. The incidence of chalcid wasps was low, so the spatial pattern of seed predation was unclear, and no preferences for fruit or seed traits were detected. Conversely, moths selected larger fruits and their incidence on trees was spatially aggregated up to 20 m, with predation levels being negatively affected by fruit abundance at the patch level, suggesting a positive density-dependent effect of neighbors on fruit output. These results highlight the importance of including the spatial component to understand complex species interactions at local scales.