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Body size variation among invertebrates inhabiting different canopy microhabitat: flower visitors are smaller


Carl Wardhaugh, School of Marine and Tropical Biology, James Cook University, Cairns Campus, McGregor Road, Smithfield, Queensland 4870, Australia. E-mail:


1. Factors such as reproductive fitness, climatic tolerance, predation pressure, energetic requirements and the quality and quantity of food sources all correlate with invertebrate body sizes.

2. This study examines body size variation between an invertebrate community inhabiting five different microhabitats (mature leaves, new leaves, flowers, fruit and suspended dead wood) that differ in quality, quantity, and availability in an Australian tropical rainforest canopy.

3. Mean body size varied significantly between invertebrate and beetle feeding guilds across microhabitats. Phylogenetically independent contrasts revealed that invertebrate taxonomic groups were significantly smaller on flowers than on mature and new leaves. Size differences between microhabitats were most pronounced among herbivorous taxa (Hemiptera, Lepidoptera). In particular, the immature stages or those groups that develop on flowers were significantly smaller on flowers and larger on leaves than expected. Taxonomic groups with many strong flying species, especially those that complete larval development on resources other than flowers, typically showed no differences in body size across microhabitats.

4. There are a number of potential hypotheses for the smaller body sizes of flower visitors, including: (i) differences in the physical sizes of the microhabitats; (ii) variation in time–dependent mortality risks that influence development times; and (iii) differences in the nutritional quality of the microhabitats, which can influence body size via metabolic pathways.

5. The findings of this study do not support hypothesis (i) (with the possible exception of one or two predatory groups). It is suggested that hypotheses (ii (time–dependent mortality factors) and particularly (iii) (nutritional variation) may be the best avenues for future study as the main drivers of body size differences between microhabitats.