Do picky eaters shape plant communities?
May 14, 2012
Sofia Gripenberg, a postdoctoral researcher from Finlandís University of Turku who is studying the importance of insect seed predation in tropical forests, checks containers with seeds at a greenhouse on Barro Colorado Island
Hundreds of plastic containers filled with seeds of all shapes and sizes line the shelves of a greenhouse on Barro Colorado Island. Several times a weekSofia Gripenberg, post doc from the University of Turku in Finland, checks to see what else is in the containers. Sheís often surprised.
She discovers whatís been inside the seeds, eating their rich endosperm. Often itís a larva that emerges after days or weeks as a beetle or a moth.
Tachigalia trees only produce seeds once a lifetime and then die. The beetles crawling out of Tachigali seeds belonged to two species she has not found on any of the 400 other plant species she has studied.
Her discovery that many seed predators are picky eaters found in only one plant species is part of the answer to a bigger question about what allows so many plant species to coexist in tropical forests. A herd of beetle larvae may eat all the seeds under their favorite tree, making room for other tree species to grow there.