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Direct link established between tropical trees and insect diversity

July 24, 2006

Direct link established between tropical trees and insect diversity

Higher tree species diversity leads directly to higher diversity of leaf-eating insects, researchers report in the July 13, 2006 early-online version of the journal Science.

Higher tree species diversity leads directly to higher diversity of leaf-eating insects, researchers report in the July 13, 2006 early-online version of the journal Science.

Understanding the drivers of the high diversity in tropical forests has been a major question since Darwin and Wallace visited tropical forests and even before, Smithsonian co-author Scott Miller writes, We found that higher tropical tree diversity explains why there are more leaf-eating insects in tropical than in temperate forests.

It may be obvious that forests with greater numbers of tree species should support a wider variety of leaf-eating insects than do less diverse forests, but no one had ever done the experiment to rule out the major alternative explanation: that insect species in the tropics eat the leaves of a smaller number of host trees (are more host specific), which would also result in more insect species in a given area. This study presents the best experimentalevidence to date to account for the latitudinal gradient in herbivorous insect biodiversity.

The effort involved a comparison of insects’ eating habits in temperate sites in Central Europe and lowland tropical sites near Mandang, Papau New Guinea. The team of ecologists, taxonomists and field assistants led by Vojtech Novotny, from the University of South Bohemia, Czech Republic, includes co-authors from the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History, National Zoological Park and STRI and the University of Minnesota in the US and Comenius University in Slovakia.

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