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Incidence of leaf mining in different vegetation types across rainfall, canopy cover and latitudinal gradients



Abstract  Leaf miners are insects whose larval stages live between layers of leaf epidermis, feeding on mesophyll and lower epidermis to create mine-like cavities. Little is known about the ecology or distribution of leaf miners in Australia. We investigated the incidence of leaf miners in relation to aridity, vegetation types, host plant taxonomy, leaf traits, canopy cover and latitude. We surveyed leaf miners at 15 sites in NSW, eastern Australia, situated along a rainfall gradient from 300 to 1700 mm per annum and a latitudinal gradient of 28°S to 33°S, within four vegetation types (mallee, heath, woodland and rainforest). Leaf mining was recorded from 36 plant species, 89% of which had no previous record of mining. The proportion of mined plant species at each site varied, but there was no significant difference between vegetation types. Leaf mining presence was positively correlated with both total leaf length and leaf thickness. No significant correlations were found between the proportion of mined species at a site and rainfall, latitude or foliar projected cover. We conclude that leaf mining is a widespread type of insect herbivory whose distribution patterns are more likely to be influenced by biotic than abiotic factors.