The relative importance of trees versus lianas as hosts for phytophagous beetles (Coleoptera) in tropical forests
Journal of Biogeography
Insect assemblages associated with lianas in tropical forests are poorly studied compared with those associated with trees. The importance of lianas for the maintenance of local species richness of insect herbivores in tropical forests is therefore poorly understood. With this in mind a comparative study of the relative importance of trees and lianas as hosts for phytophagous beetles was carried out. Location The study area was located in the canopy of a dry tropical forest in Parque Natural Metropolitano Panama province Republic of Panama. Methods A crane system was utilized to access the canopy. The number of species and host specialization of adult phytophagous beetles associated with twenty-six liana species of ten different families and twenty-four tree species of twelve different families were compared. Results A total of 2561 host associations of 697 species of beetles were determined (1339 for trees and 1222 for lianas). On average 55.8 ¬± 6.8 beetle species were found to be associated with each tree species while the comparable number for lianas was 47.0 ¬± 6.1. The pooled numbers of phytophagous beetle species associated with trees and lianas respectively were not significantly different. However there were significantly more species feeding on green plant parts on lianas than on trees and there were significantly more wood eaters on trees than on lianas. Phytophagous beetles associated with lianas were significantly more specialized than the tree associates due to a higher degree of specialization among the species feeding on green plant parts of lianas. Wood eaters and flower visitors showed no differences in host specialization on different growth forms. Main conclusion The present study shows that lianas are at least as important as trees for the maintenance of local species diversity of phytophagous beetles at this site. The mechanisms that drive the patterns can only be hypothesized. Plant architecture size and length of growing season are probably involved. Further studies should include measurements of plant traits to elucidate experimentally what mechanisms that drive the patterns. Additional insight would come from similar studies in other forest types and also studies of other major taxonomic groups of arthropod herbivores.