Aim We aim to assess the impact of forest fragmentation on lepidopteran larval community and study the associations of microclimate and tree community with lepidopteran assemblage.
Location Kibale National Park, Uganda.
Methods We investigated the effects of forest fragmentation on leaf herbivory, density of lepidopteran caterpillars, species richness and diversity as well as the composition of herbivorous lepidopteran larval community. Microclimate, size of the fragment, distance to the continuous forest, and tree diversity were studied as possible explanatory factors. We sampled 10 Neoboutonia macrocalyx Pax. (Euphorbiaceae) trees in each fragment during dry and rainy season, total of four times, in a year to cover the seasonal variation.
Results The rates of herbivory, total larval density and species richness were significantly lower in the forest fragments than in the continuous forest but species diversity expressed as Fisher's alpha did not differ. The dominance structure and community composition of the larval communities in the fragments was different from that of the continuous forest. None of the differences we observed were related to the fragment area or distance to the continuous forest. Instead, we found an indication of association between the herbivore and the tree communities. The fragments had significantly lower humidity during most of the day and higher temperature during the afternoons (14–17 h), which might partially explain the differences in lepidopteran larval communities.
Main conclusions Decreased larval density and species richness as well as differences in the community composition and structure all highlight the importance of large continuous forest areas for maintaining larval biodiversity.