JOURNAL ARTICLE

Leaf herbivory and decomposability in a Malaysian tropical rain forest

Hiroko Kurokawa, Tohru Nakashizuka
Ecology 2008, 89 (9): 2645-56
18831185
There is accumulating evidence that similar suites of plant traits may affect leaf palatability and leaf litter decomposability. However, the possible association between leaf herbivory and litter decomposition rates across species in species-diverse natural ecosystems such as tropical rain forests remains unexplored, despite its importance in estimating the herbivory effects on carbon and nutrient cycling of ecosystems. We found no strong association between leaf herbivory and litter decomposition rates across 40 tree species in a Malaysian tropical rain forest, even though the leaf and litter traits were tightly correlated. This is because the leaf and litter traits related to herbivory and decomposition rates in the field were inconsistent. Leaf toughness accounted for only a small part of the variation in the herbivory rate, whereas a number of litter traits (the leaf mass per area, lignin to nitrogen ratio, and condensed tannin concentration) accurately predicted the decomposition rate across species. These results suggest that herbivory rate across species may not be strongly related to single leaf traits, probably because plant-herbivore interactions in tropical rain forests are highly diverse; on the other hand, plant-decomposer interactions are less specific and can be governed by litter chemicals. We also investigated two factors, phylogeny and tree functional types, that could affect the relationship between herbivory and decomposition across species. Phylogenetic relatedness among the species did not affect the relationship between herbivory and decomposition. In contrast, when the plants were segregated according to their leaf emergence pattern, we found a significant positive relationship between herbivory and decomposition rates for continuous-leafing species. In these species, the condensed tannin to N ratios in leaves and litter were related to herbivory and decomposition rates, respectively. However, we did not observe a similar trend for synchronous-leafing species. These results suggest that the relationship between herbivory and decomposition may be more greatly affected by functional types than by phylogenetic relatedness among species. In conclusion, our results suggest that well-defended leaves are not necessarily less decomposable litter in a tropical rain forest community, implying that herbivory may not generate positive feedback for carbon and nutrient cycling in this type of ecosystem.

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