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Predation risk for herbivorous insects on tropical vegetation: A search for enemy-free space and time



Spatial and temporal variability in predation risk for herbivores on 13 rainforest species of Ficus (Moraceae) in Papua New Guinea was studied in order to assess whether predator-free refuges exist on their foliage and if so, whether herbivorous insects concentrate their activity in such refugia. Predation risk from invertebrate predators was measured as the disappearance rate of live termites set up as baits on the foliage. By far the most important predators were ants, accounting for 77% of attacks. No consistent differences in predation rate between Ficus species were found so that tree identity could not be used as an indicator of enemy-free space. Predation risk was highly variable among conspecific trees and also changed rapidly in time, over periods as short as 10 days. Such short-term and unpredictable predator-free refuges may be difficult for herbivores to find and exploit. Predation risk during the day was three times higher than during the night, but abundance of herbivores on the foliage was also higher during the day. Thus, night was confirmed as a relatively enemy-free time which, however, was not exploited by herbivores.

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