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Data from: Human-mediated disturbance in multitrophic interactions results in outbreak levels of North America’s most venomous caterpillar

Citation

Hood, Glen R. et al. (2019), Data from: Human-mediated disturbance in multitrophic interactions results in outbreak levels of North America’s most venomous caterpillar, Dryad, Dataset, https://doi.org/10.5061/dryad.gf7hc1r

Abstract

Abstract Anthropogenic environmental change is predicted to disrupt multitrophic interactions, which may have drastic consequences for population-level processes. Here, we investigate how a large-scale human-mediated disturbance affects the abundance of North America’s most venomous caterpillar species, Megalopyge opercularis. Specifically, we used a natural experiment where netting was deployed to cover the entire canopies of a subset of mature southern live oak trees (Quercus virginiana) to exclude urban pest birds (grackles and pigeons), throughout an 8.1-km2 area encompassing a medical center in Houston, Texas. We used this experimental exclusion to test the following hypothesis: release from avian predators increases caterpillar abundance to outbreak levels, which increases the risk to human health. Results from a multi-year survey show that caterpillar abundance increased, on average, >7300% on netted versus non-netted trees. Thus, increases in caterpillar abundance, due to anthropogenic enemy release, increase human exposure to this venomous pest, and should be considered a health threat in the area. This study emphasizes the unforeseen consequences of ecological disturbance for species interactions and highlights the importance of considering ecology in urban planning.

Usage Notes

Location

Texas
Houston