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Title: A test of the Geographic Mosaic Theory of Coevolution: investigating widespread species of Amazonian Protium (Burseraceae) trees, their chemical defenses, and their associated herbivore faunas
Introduction Plants and their insect herbivores represent a large fraction of the species in Amazonian forests and are often directly implicated in the origin and maintenance of biodiversity at local and regional scales. How these interactions may change over geographic distance is unknown because very few studies have investigated the herbivore fauna and defense chemicals of any host plant species at multiple sites in tropical forests. One hypothesis, the Geographic Mosaic Theory of Coevolution, predicts that if herbivore assemblages turn over in different parts of a plant’s range, then plant defense chemicals should also change, reflecting local selection pressures. Methods We tested this theory by studying 12 species of Protium (Burseraceae) trees that occur in both Iquitos, Peru, and Manaus, Brazil, in rainforests separated by 1500 km. We surveyed all insects observed directly feeding on the plants in both locations for 48 weeks in Manaus and 64 weeks in Iquitos. We analyzed the secondary metabolites in the leaves of all species in both locations using GC/MS and HPLC. Results and Discussion Although in both locations we found that Protium herbivores were dominated by insects from the orders Hemiptera, Coleoptera and Lepidoptera, we found almost complete turnover in the herbivore species composition in the two sites, and each host plant species had a different assemblage of herbivores in each location. Comparing the phylogenetic beta-diversity, we found low similarity in herbivore phylogenetic relatedness between host plant species in the two locations. However, the secondary metabolites found within a Protium species were similar across the two locations. We found no strong evidence that individuals from a host plant species in Iquitos or Manaus expressed locally-adapted defense chemicals, as individuals from geographic locations did not form clusters when looking at patterns of chemical similarity. These results are not consistent with the Geographic Mosaic Theory of Coevolution. The most intriguing pattern we found was a strong correlation between the diversity of herbivores per host plant species in both locations. We also found that plants with high chemical richness had lower numbers of herbivore species and numbers of total herbivores in both locations. We conclude that high chemical diversity is the most effective strategy for Protium trees to reduce insect herbivore attacks. We speculate that each secondary metabolite is effective at repelling only a few insect herbivores, and that different chemicals are likely effective in different parts of a plants’ geographic range. Future studies should investigate additional locations and additional natural enemies (i.e., fungal pathogens) to test the hypothesis that chemical diversity reduces attack from natural enemies and may explain the ecological and evolutionary success of rainforest trees over time and space.  more » « less
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Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution
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Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
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