Lisamarie Lehner


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Caterpillar communities on Chusquea sp. (Poaceae) in the Andes of southern Ecuador

Chusquea (Bambusoideae) is an abundant and widely distributed plant genus in the Andes and may therefore serve as a potentially important host to a variety of phytophagous insects. To date, little is known about its associated herbivores. Caterpillar communities on various shrubs in the lower mountain forest zone of South Ecuador have been extensively studied and were found to be highly diverse. Cloud forests have been poorly studied, but are assumed to harbor an exceptionally species rich community due to their specific ecological features, such as enhanced precipitation and dense epiphyllic growth. For this reason, species diversity, taxonomic composition, and feeding guild structure of Lepidopteran larvae communities on Chusquea sp. were compared between a lower mountain forest (2000m a.s.l.) and a cloud forest (3000m a.s.l.). Caterpillars were collected by the beating method, subjected to feeding trials, and reared (whenever possible) to adulthood in the laboratory. Deceased caterpillars were identified by use of DNA barcoding. Altogether 392 individuals belonging to 193 species in 12 families were recorded, of which Geometridae, Noctuidae, Erebidae and Nymphalidae were the most abundant. Approximately 50% of individuals were herbivorous, 25% non-herbivorous and 25% were switchers (i.e. young larvae feed on dead foliage or epiphytic growth and older ones on fresh foliage). Species diversity as measured by Shannon's entropy was very high and exceeded values reported for communities affiliated with other plant species in this area. Beta diversity between the two forest types was very high with only eight shared species. Dominance structure in the present assemblage was unusually low with a Berger-Parker index of only 0.04. The proportion of singletons (66%), on the other hand, was very high compared to other studies. Caterpillar communities differed in terms of taxonomic composition and feeding guild structure between the two habitats. Notably, herbivorous taxa were more abundant at higher elevations, while non-herbivores showed higher densities at lower altitude.


  • Seifert C.L., Lehner L., Adams M-O., Fiedler K. (2015) Predation on artificial caterpillars is higher in countryside than near-natural forest habitat in lowland south-western Costa Rica, Journal of Tropical Ecology, DOI: 10.1017/S0266467415000012. Link to Article