Ecology

Count Consumers

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Science  24 Jan 2014:
Vol. 343, Issue 6169, pp. 352
DOI: 10.1126/science.343.6169.352-b
CREDIT: © FLPA/ALAMY

Invertebrate herbivores are an important component of tropical forest ecosystems, and new data from forests in Peru quantify their role in biogeochemical cycling. Metcalfe et al. surveyed patterns of herbivory in forests along an elevational transect from 300 to 3000 m in the Andes, over a full seasonal cycle, to calculate rates of herbivory and its effect on pathways of nutrient cycling (particularly N, P, and C). Herbivore activity was greater at lower elevations and higher temperatures and at high concentrations of foliar P, with up to 20% of foliar productivity diverted to herbivores over the year. Herbivory also contributed an unexpectedly high proportion of N and P inputs to the soil. These patterns in turn may have implications for future C cycling and sequestration in tropical forests, as changes in environmental conditions lead to shifts in abundances of herbivore populations. Complex as they may be, the activities and effects of consumers should be incorporated into global vegetation models in order to accurately predict the likely consequences of global change.

Ecol. Lett. 10.1111/ele.12233 (2013).

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