Insectivorous birds reduce herbivory but do not increasemangrove growth across productivity zones

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Forde, Alexander J., Feller, Ilka C., Parker, John D., and Gruner, Daniel S.. 2022. “ Insectivorous Birds Reduce Herbivory but Do Not Increase Mangrove Growth across Productivity Zones.” Ecology 103(10): e3768.


Top-down effects of predators and bottom-up effects of resources are important drivers of community structure and function in a wide array of ecosystems. Fertilization experiments impose variation in resource availability that can mediate the strength of predator impacts, but the prevalence of such interactions across natural productivity gradients is less clear. We studied the joint impacts of top-down and bottom-up factors in a tropical mangrove forest system, leveraging fine-grained patchiness in resource availability and primary productivity on coastal cays of Belize. We excluded birds from canopies of red mangrove (Rhizophoraceae: Rhizophora mangle) for 13 months in zones of phosphorus-limited, stunted dwarf mangroves, and in adjacent zones of vigorous mangroves that receive detrital subsidies. Birds decreased total arthropod densities by 62%, herbivore densities more than fivefold, and reduced rates of leaf and bud herbivory by 45% and 52%, respectively. Despite similar arthropod densities across both zones of productivity, leaf and bud damage were 2.0 and 4.3 times greater in productive stands. Detrital subsidies strongly impacted a suite of plant traits in productive stands, potentially making leaves more nutritious and vulnerable to damage. Despite consistently strong impacts on herbivory, we did not detect top-down forcing that impacted mangrove growth, which was similar with and without birds. Our results indicated that both top-down and bottom-up forces drive arthropod community dynamics, but attenuation at the plant-herbivore interface weakens top-down control by avian insectivores.