How specialised must natural enemies be to facilitate coexistence among plants?


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The Janzen-Connell hypothesis proposes that plant interactions with host-specific antagonists can impair the fitness of locally abundant species and thereby facilitate coexistence. However, insects and pathogens that associate with multiple hosts may mediate exclusion rather than coexistence. We employ a simulation model to examine the effect of enemy host breadth on plant species richness and defence community structure, and to assess expected diversity maintenance in example systems. Only models in which plant enemy similarity declines rapidly with defence similarity support greater species richness than models of neutral drift. In contrast, a wide range of enemy host breadths result in spatial dispersion of defence traits, at both landscape and local scales, indicating that enemy-mediated competition may increase defence-trait diversity without enhancing species richness. Nevertheless, insect and pathogen host associations in Panama and Papua New Guinea demonstrate a potential to enhance plant species richness and defence-trait diversity comparable to strictly specialised enemies.