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Keywords:

  • Attalea butyracea;
  • Barro Colorado Island;
  • enemies hypothesis;
  • negative density dependence;
  • seed predation;
  • specialization;
  • species coexistence;
  • species diversity;
  • trophic cascade;
  • tropical forest

Ecology Letters (2011) 14: 1093–1100

Abstract

Natural enemies, especially host-specific enemies, are hypothesised to facilitate the coexistence of plant species by disproportionately inflicting more damage at increasing host abundance. However, few studies have assessed such Janzen–Connell mechanisms on a scale relevant for coexistence and no study has evaluated potential top-down influences on the specialized pests. We quantified seed predation by specialist invertebrates and generalist vertebrates, as well as larval predation on these invertebrates, for the Neotropical palm Attalea butyracea across ten 4-ha plots spanning 20-fold variation in palm density. As palm density increased, seed attack by bruchid beetles increased, whereas seed predation by rodents held constant. But because rodent predation on bruchid larvae increased disproportionately with increasing palm density, bruchid emergence rates and total seed predation by rodents and bruchids combined were both density-independent. Our results demonstrate that top-down effects can limit the potential of host-specific insects to induce negative-density dependence in plant populations.