Regional diversity, local community structure and vacant niches: the herbivorous arthropods of bracken in South Africa


Department of Pure and Applied Biology, Imperial College, Silwood Park, Ascot, Berks, SL5 7PY.


Abstract. 1. Seventeen species of phytophagous arthropods (sixteen insects and one gall-forming eryiophyid mite) were found feeding on the above-ground parts of bracken (Pteridium aquilinum (L.) Khun.) in surveys throughout the geographic range of the plant in South Africa. A further thirteen species of insects may possibly feed on the plant in this region.

2. Given the area over which bracken grows in South Africa, this is very close to the number of species expected on the plant, based on species-area calculations and comparisons with bracken in other geographic regions.

3. The species-richness of bracken-feeding arthropods in local communities reflects the size of the regional pool of species in different geographic areas. Local richness in South Africa is intermediate between that in south-western U.S.A. and Britain.

4. In both Britain and South Africa there is a weak tendency (0.05 < P < 0.07) for larger local patches of bracken to support more species of phytophages than small patches, with similar very shallow slopes (0.083 and 0.086) in plots of log species versus log area on both continents.

5. The taxonomic composition of bracken-feeding arthropods in South Africa is markedly different from that in other pants of the world, suggesting very different and largely independent evolutionary histories in different regions.

6. There is no sign of convergence in the feeding niches of communities of bracken-feeding arthropods in different parts of the world, and the pattern of feeding relationships is very different in South Africa to patterns observed elsewhere. Conspicuous vacant niches (ways of exploiting the plant that are observed in other geographic regions) are easily identified in the South African communities.