Interspecific interactions in phytophagous insects revisited: a quantitative assessment of competition theory




The importance of interspecific competition is a highly controversial and unresolved issue for community ecology in general, and for phytophagous insects in particular. Recent advancements, however, in our understanding of indirect (plant- and enemy-mediated) interactions challenge the historical paradigms of competition. Thus, in the context of this rapidly developing field, we re-evaluate the evidence for interspecific competition in phytophagous insects using a meta-analysis of published studies. Our analysis is specifically designed to test the assumptions underlying traditional competition theory, namely that competitive interactions are symmetrical, necessitate spatial and temporal co-occurrence, and increase in intensity as the density, phylogenetic similarity, and niche overlap of competing species increase. Despite finding frequent evidence for competition, we found very little evidence that plant-feeding insects conform to theoretical predictions for interspecific competition. Interactions were highly asymmetrical, similar in magnitude within vs. between feeding guilds (chewers vs. sap-feeders), and were unaffected by the quantity of resources removed (% defoliation). There was mixed support for the effects of phylogeny, spatial/temporal separation, and the relative strength of intra- vs. interspecific competition. Clearly, a new paradigm that accounts for indirect interactions and facilitation is required to describe how interspecific competition contributes to the organization of phytophagous insect communities, and perhaps to other plant and animal communities as well.