Quantitative assessment of plant-arthropod interactions in forest canopies: A plot-based approach
Research on canopy arthropods has progressed from species inventories to the study of their interactions and networks, enhancing our understanding of how hyper-diverse communities are maintained. Previous studies often focused on sampling individual tree species, individual trees or their parts. We argue that such selective sampling is not ideal when analyzing interaction network structure, and may lead to erroneous conclusions. We developed practical and reproducible sampling guidelines for the plot-based analysis of arthropod interaction networks in forest canopies. Our sampling protocol focused on insect herbivores (leaf-chewing insect larvae, miners and gallers) and non-flying invertebrate predators (spiders and ants). We quantitatively sampled the focal arthropods from felled trees, or from trees accessed by canopy cranes or cherry pickers in 53 0.1 ha forest plots in five biogeographic regions, comprising 6,280 trees in total. All three methods required a similar sampling effort and provided good foliage accessibility. Furthermore, we compared interaction networks derived from plot-based data to interaction networks derived from simulated non-plot-based data focusing either on common tree species or a representative selection of tree families. All types of non-plot-based data showed highly biased network structure towards higher connectance, higher web asymmetry, and higher nestedness temperature when compared with plot-based data. Furthermore, some types of non-plot-based data showed biased diversity of the associated herbivore species and specificity of their interactions. Plot-based sampling thus appears to be the most rigorous approach for reconstructing realistic, quantitative plant-arthropod interaction networks that are comparable across sites and regions. Studies of plant interactions have greatly benefited from a plot-based approach and we argue that studies of arthropod interactions would benefit in the same way. We conclude that plot-based studies on canopy arthropods would yield important insights into the processes of interaction network assembly and dynamics, which could be maximised via a coordinated network of plot-based study sites.