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Forest-fragment quality rather than matrix habitat shapes herbivory on tree recruits in South Africa

  • Alexandra Botzat (a1), Lena Fischer (a1) and Nina Farwig (a1)

Forest fragmentation can alter herbivory on tree recruits with possible consequences for regeneration. We assessed effects of forest-fragment quality (tree diversity, vegetation complexity, relative abundance of pioneer trees) and matrix habitat on arthropods and herbivory in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. We compared arthropod abundances and herbivory on woody seedlings and saplings among four forest-fragment types differing in size and matrix (large fragments and small fragments surrounded by natural grassland, eucalypt and sugarcane plantations; nplots = 24) using analyses of covariance. We recorded 3385 arthropods and inspected 897 seedlings (71 species) and 876 saplings (91 species). Relative abundance of predators increased with fragment quality; that of herbivores decreased. Herbivory responses to fragment quality varied: seedling herbivory decreased with relative abundance of pioneers and sapling herbivory increased with vegetation complexity. Matrix effects were low with little variation in relative abundance of predators (0.39–0.53) and herbivores (0.22–0.32), proportion of seedling (8.3–11.0%) and sapling herbivory (12.4–14.3%) among the forest-fragment types. These findings indicate that herbivory on tree recruits is mediated by forest-fragment quality rather than matrix habitat. Future studies should evaluate whether contrasting effects of fragment quality on arthropods and herbivory are caused by weak trophic interactions and variable herbivore compositions.

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