A large trophic quilt


Correspondence author. Email: thomasl@unicamp.br


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[ Assembling a tropical plant-herbivore web requires thousands of person-hours of field sampling and rearing, and thousands more to mount, sort and when possible identify hundreds of different herbivorous species. The decision, early on, to organize a stable team of highly involved and committed parataxonomists [Y. Basset et al. (2000) Bioscience, 50, 899-908], who attend to these massive routines, was as essential to the entire enterprise as the engagement of expert taxonomists to cover major groups of herbivorous insects. Image credit: New Guinea Binatang Research Center. ]

V. Novotny, S. E. Miller, L. Baje, S. Balagawi, Y. Basset, L. Cizek, K.J. Craft, F. Dem, R.A.I. Drew, J. Huclr, J. Leps, O.T. Lewis, R. Pokon, A.J.A. Stewart, G.A. Samuelson & G.D. Weiblen (2010) Guild-specific patterns of species richness and host specialization in plant–herbivore food webs from a tropical forest. Journal of Animal Ecology, 79, 1193–1203.

Plants and invertebrate herbivores are major constituents of terrestrial food webs. Identifying component species and tracing their interactions in highly diverse communities are a monumental task. Novotny et al. 2010 present the first broad conspectus of herbivore–plant interactions in a forest in Papua New Guinea. In more than 15 years, nearly 7000 feeding links were traced between about 200 plants and 1500 insect herbivores. Although staggering, these figures might represent only 15% of the total herbivore richness and interaction diversity in that lowland forest. Standardized comparisons also showed distinctive specialization and diversification patterns in different feeding guilds, restricting the possibility of using any single guild as surrogate for the entire assemblage.