Leaf miner and plant galler species richness on Acacia: relative importance of plant traits and climate01 June 2011
Diversity patterns of herbivores have been related to climate, host plant traits, host plant distribution and evolutionary relationships individually. However, few studies have assessed the relative contributions of a range of variables to explain these diversity patterns across large geographical and host plant species gradients. Here we assess the relative influence that climate and host plant traits have on endophagous species (leaf miners and plant gallers) diversity across a suite of host species from a genus that is widely distributed and morphologically variable. Forty-six species of Acacia were sampled to encapsulate the diversity of species across four taxonomic sections and a range of habitats along a 950 km climatic gradient: from subtropical forest habitats to semi-arid habitats. Plant traits, climatic variables, leaf miner and plant galler diversity were all quantified on each plant species. In total, 97 leaf mining species and 84 plant galling species were recorded from all host plants. Factors that best explained leaf miner richness across the climatic gradient (using AIC model selection) included specific leaf area (SLA), foliage thickness and mean annual rainfall. The factor that best explained plant galler richness across the climatic gradient was C:N ratio. In terms of the influence of plant and climatic traits on species composition, leaf miner assemblages were best explained by SLA, foliage thickness, mean minimum temperature and mean annual rainfall, whilst plant gall assemblages were explained by C:N ratio, %P, foliage thickness, mean minimum temperature and mean annual rainfall. This work is the first to assess diversity and structure across a broad environmental gradient and a wide range of potential key climatic and plant trait determinants simultaneously. Such methods provide key insights into endophage diversity and provide a solid basis for assessing their responses to a changing climate.