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Insects and light interact to mediate vine colonization of fast-growing Microberlinia bisulcata tree seedlings in gaps of an African rainforest


Norghauer, Julian M. (2019), Insects and light interact to mediate vine colonization of fast-growing Microberlinia bisulcata tree seedlings in gaps of an African rainforest, Dryad, Dataset,


Vines thrive in lowland tropical forests yet the biotic factors underlying their colonization of host tree seedlings and saplings remain surprisingly understudied. Insect herbivores presumably could influence this process, especially where disturbance has opened the canopy (i.e., gaps)—temporary areas of higher primary productivity favoring the recruitment of vines and trees and invertebrates in forests—but their impact on vine colonization has never been experimentally tested. Using data from an insect-herbivore exclusion (mesh-netting cages) experiment conducted in an African rainforest (Korup, Cameroon), I logistically modeled the probability of vines colonizing seedlings of three co-dominant species (Microberlinia bisulcatavs. Tetraberlinia bifoliolataand T. korupensis) in paired shaded understory and sunny gap locations (41 blocks across 80 ha, starting n = 664 seedlings) in a 1–2-yr period (2008–2009). Vine colonization occurred almost exclusively in gaps, occurring on 16% of seedlings there. Excluding herbivores in gaps doubled colonization of the light-demanding and faster-growing M. bisulcatabut had negligible effects on the two shade-tolerant, slower-growing and less palatable Tetraberliniaspecies, which together were twice as susceptible to vines under natural forest gap conditions (controls). When protected from herbivores in gaps, more light to individual seedlings strongly increased vine colonization of M. bisulcatawhereas its well-lit control individuals supported significantly fewer vines. These results suggest vines preferably colonize taller seedlings, and because light-demanding tree species grow faster in height with more light, they are more prone to being colonized in gaps; however, insect herbivores can mediate this process by stunting fast-growing individuals so that colonization rates becomes more similar between co-occurring slow and fast growing tree species. Further influencing this process might be associational resistance or susceptibility to herbivores linked to host species’ leaf traits conferring shade-tolerance ability as seedlings or saplings. A richer understanding of how vines differentially influence forest regeneration and species composition may come from investigating vine–tree–herbivore interactions across light gradients, ideally via long-term studies and intercontinental comparisons.