• Euphorbiaceae;
  • host specificity;
  • Moraceae;
  • plant palatability;
  • rain forest


  • 1
     The spatial distribution of 30 woody species (15 species each of Euphorbiaceae and Moraceae) and their associated leaf-chewing communities (Orthoptera, Phasmatodea, Coleoptera and Lepidoptera) were studied in coastal, riverine and rain forest habitats. A successional series, from abandoned gardens to primary forest, was examined. Host plant records for more than 27 000 insects, all verified by feeding experiments, and spatial distribution of almost 9000 plant specimens were evaluated.
  • 2
     Phylogenetic (taxonomic) relatedness of host plants explained 56% of the variability in the composition of their herbivore communities, while the ecological (distribution) similarity of plants explained only 4%.
  • 3
     The successional optimum of plant species was not an important determinant of the composition of their herbivore communities.
  • 4
     Neither plant successional optimum nor plant palatability to a generalist herbivore were correlated with the number of species, abundance or host specificity of its herbivores, nor was there a correlation between a plant’s palatability to a generalist herbivore and its successional optimum.
  • 5
     Herbivore communities became dominated increasingly by a few abundant species in later stages of succession.
  • 6
     On average, Ficus species had lower palatability and supported more species of herbivores than species of Euphorbiaceae. The abundance of herbivores and their dominance index were not significantly different between the two plant families.
  • 7
     These results contradict several previous studies of successional trends in temperate regions. Many tropical successions, however, start with pioneer trees, rather than with annual herbs, and may present a permanent and predictable habitat for insects even at the earliest stages, with no advantage for polyphagous species. Numerous pioneer trees in the tropics possess anti-herbivore defences, resulting in their low palatability to generalists, increased host specificity of herbivores, and often idiosyncratic composition of herbivore communities. Even plant traits such as species richness of their herbivores or palatability may have a phylogenetic component which should not be ignored.