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Predation by avian insectivores on caterpillars is linked to leaf damage on oak (Quercus robur)

Gunnarsson, Bengt, Wallin, Jonas, Klingberg, Jenny
Oecologia 2018 v.188 no.3 pp. 733-741
Quercus robur, arthropods, birds, canopy, foraging, habitats, insect larvae, insectivores, leaf area, leaves, phytophagous insects, plant damage, predation, predator-prey relationships, regression analysis, risk, statistical models, trees, Sweden
Birds that are foraging in tree canopies can cause a substantial decrease in arthropod numbers. Trees may benefit from avian insectivores attacking insect herbivores. In a field study, we tested whether the intensity of bird predation on caterpillars is linked quantitatively to leaf damage caused by insect herbivores, a hypothesized relationship that previously was poorly investigated. Artificial caterpillars were placed in the lower part of oak trees (Quercus robur) in urban and suburban sites across the city of Gothenburg, Sweden. Two days later, we recorded the survival: the pooled predation rate was 11.5% (5.7% day⁻¹). Mean predation rate per tree was 10.4%. Mean leaf damage, i.e. leaf area eaten by insect herbivores, per tree was 5.7% but there was large variation between trees. We found a significant negative relationship between survival probability of caterpillars and leaf damage in an analysis using a mixed model logistic regression. This suggests that caterpillars are at high risk of bird attacks in trees with a high degree of leaf damage and avian insectivores may increase the foraging effort in the foliage of such oak trees. Our findings concerning the quantitative relationship between the predator–prey interactions and plant damage suggested tentatively that the survival probability of caterpillars decreases rapidly at 15–20% leaf damage in lower part of oak canopies. Furthermore, our findings add credence to the idea of using artificial caterpillars as a means to obtain standardized comparisons of predation rates in various habitats.