Do leaf traits affect insect herbivory in a Chinese cork oak forest?

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Xinliang Shao
Ke Cheng
Qin Zhang
Fei Xu
Lili Li


Insect herbivory, Forest strata, Insect-herbivore interactions, Leaf chemistry, Leaf quality, Leaf traits


Background: It is widely accepted that certain leaf traits indicating leaf quality play an important role in regulating insect herbivory. Numerous studies have attempted to find a clear relationship between insect herbivory and leaf traits. However, the results are inconsistent. In particular, it is still unclear whether leaf traits of a tree species affect insect herbivory in the field.

Methods: We examined the effects of leaf traits including structural defensive traits (specific leaf area), nutritional traits (nitrogen content, water content, and soluble sugar content), and chemical defensive traits (tannin content and carbon content) on variation of insect herbivory among three forest strata (vertical variability) and 18 locations (horizontal variability) in a Chinese cork oak (Quercus variabilis) forest landscape.

Results: Vertically, insect herbivory in the low-canopy stratum was significantly higher than in the other strata, but variation of leaf traits among strata had little explanatory power for the vertical pattern of insect herbivory. Horizontally, leaf carbon content had weak negative effects on insect herbivory while leaf tannin content had weak and divergent effects on insect herbivory in different strata.

Conclusions: Leaf traits selected in this study have weak effects on insect herbivory in the Chinese cork oak forests we studied. These effects may be masked by other abiotic and biotic factors, but further examination is needed.

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