Plant herbivory responses through changes in leaf quality have no effect on subsequent leaf-litter decomposition in a neotropical rain forest tree community
- It is commonly accepted that plant responses to foliar herbivory (e.g. plant defenses) can influence subsequent leaf‐litter decomposability in soil. While several studies have assessed the herbivory–decomposability relationship among different plant species, experimental tests at the intra‐specific level are rare, although critical for a mechanistic understanding of how herbivores affect decomposition and its consequences at the ecosystem scale.
- Using 17 tree species from the Yasuní National Park, Ecuadorian Amazonia, and applying three different herbivore damage treatments, we experimentally tested whether the plant intra‐specific responses to herbivory, through changes in leaf quality, affect subsequent leaf‐litter decomposition in soil.
- We found no effects of herbivore damage on the subsequent decomposition of leaf litter within any of the species tested. Our results suggest that leaf traits affecting herbivory are different from those influencing decomposition. Herbivore damage showed much higher intra‐specific than inter‐specific variability, while we observed the opposite for decomposition.
- Our findings support the idea that interactions between consumers and their resources are controlled by different factors for the green and the brown food‐webs in tropical forests, where herbivory may not necessarily generate any direct positive or negative feedbacks for nutrient cycling.