Caterpillar loss in tropical forest linked to extreme rain, temperature events

phys.org | 8/14/2019 | Staff
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Using a 22-year dataset of plant-caterpillar-parasitoid interactions collected within a patch of protected Costa Rican lowland Caribbean forest, scientists report declines in caterpillar and parasitoid diversity and density that are paralleled by losses in an important ecosystem service: biocontrol of herbivores by parasitoids.

The study by University of Nevada, Reno researchers, published in Scientific Reports this week, reveals distressing declines among common caterpillar genera and the ecosystem services provided by their natural enemies.

Declines - Herbivore - Enemy - Diversity - Parasitism

"Declines in herbivore and enemy diversity, as well as parasitism frequency, are partly explained by changes in climate, including increases in extreme precipitation events and increases in mean temperatures," lead author of the study Danielle Salcido said.

In 2017, the observation by Professor Lee Dyer, of the University's College of Science, that La Selva Biological Research Station, Costa Rica experienced more frequent flooding events, became the catalyst for a study led by graduate student Salcido to examine patterns in extreme precipitation events and their potential ecological impact for plant-caterpillar-parasitoid interactions in this lowland tropical forest.

La - Selva - Patch - Forest - Agriculture

"La Selva is an isolated patch of forest surrounded by agriculture that is responsible for global exports of banana, pineapple and palm," Salcido said. "Habitat patches like La Selva are source populations of parasitoids that control pest populations in surrounding agriculture plantations. Reductions in parasitism by specialized parasitoids threaten this service and ultimately ecosystem health within the forest."

Along with the help of coauthor and University of Nevada, Reno professor, biologist and butterfly expert Matthew Forister, these researchers found staggering declines in caterpillar and parasitoid diversity and density across the 22 years of the study. More than 40% of the 64 common caterpillar genera collected declined in frequency- a result that suggested the loss of entire groups of caterpillar.

Researchers - Cost - Losses - Tandem - Declines

Researchers also found an ecological cost associated with the observed losses. Tandem with declines in diversity, was the reduction...
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