THE IMPACT OF AVIAN INSECTIVORY ON ARTHROPODS AND LEAF DAMAGE IN SOME GUATEMALAN COFFEE PLANTATIONS

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Abstract

Experimental work has established that vertebrates can have a large impact on the abundance of arthropods in temperate forest and grasslands, as well as on tropical islands. The importance of vertebrate insectivory has only rarely been evaluated for mainland tropical ecosystems. In this study, we used exclosures to measure the impact of birds on arthropods in Guatemalan coffee plantations. Variation in shade management on coffee farms provides a gradient of similar habitats that vary in the complexity of vegetative structure and floristics. We hypothesized that shaded coffee plantations, which support a higher abundance of insectivorous birds, would experience relatively greater levels of predation than would the sun coffee farms. We found a reduction (64–80%) in the number of large (> 5 mm in length) but not small arthropods in both coffee types which was consistent across most taxonomic groups and ecological guilds. We also found a small but significant increase in the frequency of herbivore damage on leaves in the exclosures. This level of predation suggests that birds may help in reducing herbivore numbers and is also consistent with food limitation for birds in coffee agroecosystems. However, the presence of shade did not have an effect on levels of insectivory.

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