Plant-animal interactions in two forest herbs along a tree and herb diversity gradient

E. Vockenhuber, P. Kabouw, T. Tscharntke, C. Scherber

Research output: Contribution to journal/periodicalArticleScientificpeer-review


Background: Plant diversity can influence numerous ecosystem processes, including plant–animal interactions, which, in turn, will affect plant growth and fitness. At present, little is known on how plant–animal interactions in forests respond to gradients in tree and herb-layer diversity. Aims: To quantify how invertebrate herbivory, pollination-dependent seed production and post-dispersal seed predation vary along a gradient of tree and herb diversity in a semi-natural temperate deciduous forest. Methods: Potted individuals of the understorey herbs Lathyrus vernus and Primula elatior were exposed in 40 forest plots along a natural gradient of tree and herb diversity for 3 months to record seed production and leaf damage caused by invertebrate herbivores. In half the plants, pollinators were experimentally excluded to test if seed production depended on insect pollination. In Lathyrus vernus linkages between below- and above-ground herbivory were tested by inoculating plants with root-feeding nematodes. To study seed predation, we measured seed removal from seed depots that were selectively accessible to different seed predator groups. Results: Herbivore damage decreased with increasing tree diversity in P. elatior. In L. vernus, above-ground herbivory was higher in nematode-treated plants than in control plants. Seed production in L. vernus, which strongly depended on insect pollination, showed a positive relationship with tree diversity. Seed predation was positively related to herb diversity in L. vernus, but only weakly so in P. elatior. While both vertebrates and invertebrates acted as seed predators of L. vernus, seeds of P. elatior were mainly predated by invertebrates. Conclusions: The fitness of understorey plants is linked to tree and herb diversity via changes in plant-invertebrate interactions. However, species-specific responses of study plants underline the importance of species identity effects in addition to effects of biodiversity per se.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)205-216
JournalPlant Ecology & Diversity
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2013


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