Ecosystem engineers

March 27, 2003

In a recent study published in Ecology, John Lill and Robert Marquis (University of Missouri - St. Louis) investigated the role shelter-building caterpillars play in herbivorous insect communities living on white oaks. Previous studies have shown how caterpillars create and modify habitats through the construction of leaf shelters, increasing biodiversity around the leaves. In their study, Lill and Marquis wanted to see what effect shelter-building caterpillars had on the entire community living on oak saplings.

In Missouri alone, over forty species of caterpillars make their homes on oaks. The insects create a shelter by rolling, folding, or tying leaves together with silk or creating a silk tent that provides protection. The caterpillar Pseudotelphusa is often one of the first species to build leaf shelters on white oaks in the early summer, building its shelter by tying two leaves together. Once mature, the larvae drop onto the leaf litter below to pupate, the final stage of growth before emerging as a mature winged flying adult. Other caterpillars, including later emerging larvae of the same species, will utilize these preexisting homes and keep up maintenance of the structures.

By removing these early leaf shelters on some trees and adding them to others, with and without caterpillars, Lill and Marquis measured how the presence of shelters affected the community of insects inhabiting each tree. Comparing these test subjects with natural populations of white oaks, the researchers discovered that the removal of shelters led to a reduction of insect diversity for the entire season. The insects appeared just as attracted to oaks with artificial habitats as they were to shelters built by Pseudotelphusa.

"These shelter-building caterpillars, as the first of the season, appear to have a great influence on the diversity of similar species and could affect regional patterns of insect herbivore diversity throughout much of the broad-leaved forests of Europe and North America," said Lill.

For caterpillars that live in shelters, the drop in available leaf-ties led to an overall reduction in their numbers. The numbers of other insect species, including beetles and non-shelter abiding caterpillars, appeared unaffected by the removal or alteration of shelters.
-end-
Ecology is a peer-reviewed journal published twelve times a year by the Ecological Society of America (ESA). Copies of the above article are available free of charge to the press through the Society's Public Affairs Office. Members of the press may also obtain copies of ESA's entire family of publications, which includes Ecology, Ecological Applications, Ecological Monographs, and Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment.

Founded in 1915, the Ecological Society of America (ESA) is a scientific, non-profit, organization with almost 8,000 members. Through ESA reports, journals, membership research, and expert testimony to Congress, ESA seeks to promote the responsible application of ecological data and principles to the solution of environmental problems. For more information about the Society and its activities, access ESA's web site at: http://www.esa.org.

Ecological Society of America

Related Diversity Articles from Brightsurf:

More plant diversity, less pesticides
Increasing plant diversity enhances the natural control of insect herbivory in grasslands.

Insect diversity boosted by combination of crop diversity and semi-natural habitats
To enhance the number of beneficial insect species in agricultural land, preserving semi-natural habitats and promoting crop diversity are both needed, according to new research published in the British Ecological Society's Journal of Applied of Ecology.

Ethnolinguistic diversity slows down urban growth
Where various ethnic groups live together, cities grow at a slower rate.

Protecting scientific diversity
The COVID-19 pandemic means that scientists face great challenges because they have to reorient, interrupt or even cancel research and teaching.

Cultural diversity in chimpanzees
Termite fishing by chimpanzees was thought to occur in only two forms with one or multiple tools, from either above-ground or underground termite nests.

Bursts of diversity in the gut microbiota
The diversity of bacteria in the human gut is an important biomarker of health, influences multiple diseases, such as obesity and inflammatory bowel diseases and affects various treatments.

Underestimated chemical diversity
An international team of researchers has conducted a global review of all registered industrial chemicals: some 350,000 different substances are produced and traded around the world -- well in excess of the 100,000 reached in previous estimates.

New world map of fish genetic diversity
An international research team from ETH Zurich and French universities has studied genetic diversity among fish around the world for the first time.

Biological diversity as a factor of production
Can the biodiversity of ecosystems be considered a factor of production?

Fungal diversity and its relationship to the future of forests
Stanford researchers predict that climate change will reduce the diversity of symbiotic fungi that help trees grow.

Read More: Diversity News and Diversity Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.