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Ecosystem consequences of selective feeding of an insect herbivore: palatability–decomposability relationship revisited


Hideki Kagata, Center for Ecological Research, Kyoto University, Hirano 2-chome, Otsu, Shiga 520-2113, Japan. E-mail:


1. The relationship between leaf palatability and litter decomposability is critical to understanding the effects of selective feeding by herbivores on decomposition processes, and several studies have reported that there is a positive relationship between them.

2. However, palatability is not always positively correlated with decomposability, because of species-specific feeding adaptation of herbivores to host plants. Moreover, the effects of selective feeding by herbivores on soil decomposition processes should be understood in terms of the inputs of leaf litter and excrement.

3. The present study examined the relationships between leaf palatability and the decomposability of litter and frass, using Lymantria dispar Linnaeus and 15 temperate deciduous tree species.

4. Larvae of L. dispar exhibited a clear feeding preference, and subsequently the excreted frass mass differed among tree species. Litter and frass decomposability also differed among tree species, and frass was more rapidly decomposed than litter. There were no positive or negative correlations between palatability and decomposability of litter and frass.

5. These results indicate that L. dispar larvae may accelerate the decomposition process in temperate deciduous forests through selective feeding on plants with relatively low litter decomposability and the production of frass with higher decomposability than the litter.