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Explaining Leaf Herbivory Rates on Tree Seedlings in a Malaysian Rain Forest


1   Corresponding author; Current address: School of Biology, University Park, University of Nottingham, Nottingham NG7 2RD, UK; e-mail:


Seedlings of five species of dipterocarp trees were planted in experimental plots in rain forest gaps in Sabah, Malaysia, and the rates of herbivory on their mature leaves recorded over 6 mo. A novel method was used to estimate the feeding pressure exerted by the local insect herbivore community, derived from the relative abundances of the dominant generalist herbivores and their feeding preferences. Characteristics of the leaves related to their defense and nutritional value were measured—phenolic content, laminar fracture toughness, laminar thickness, and nitrogen content. Three main groups of herbivorous insects were present—coleopteran and lepidopteran herbivores, which were sampled by hand from the seedlings, and orthopteran herbivores, which were sampled by sweep netting. The feeding preferences of the main coleopteran and orthopteran herbivores were determined using laboratory feeding trials. Combining variables in a Principal Components Analysis, a clear separation was found between the five seedling species along the first extracted component. This correlated closely with herbivory rates between species. The first extracted component comprised a negative influence of phenolic content and positive effects of nitrogen content, laminar fracture toughness, abundances of coleopteran and lepidopteran herbivores, and estimated feeding pressure of the coleopteran community. Further studies are required to determine the potential applications of the latter measure of estimated herbivore community impact.