Interspecific competition and insect herbivory reduce bush lupine (Lupinus arboreus ) seedling survival

John L Maron
Oecologia 1997, 110 (2): 284-290
Seedlings suffer high mortality in most plant populations, with both competition and herbivory proposed as being important mechanisms causing seedling death. The relative strength of these factors, however, is often unknown. Here I ask how interspecific competition for light and insect herbivory jointly affect seedling survival of bush lupine (Lupinus arboreus), a native shrub common to coastal California. Bush lupine seedlings germinate in grasslands during winter, and throughout spring potentially compete for light with surrounding fast-growing annual grasses. By early summer, after grasses have died, seedlings can be defoliated by a locally abundant caterpillar, the western tussock moth (Orgyia vetusta). I examined the relative importance of competition and insect herbivory on seedling survival in two separate experiments. First, I compared seedling mortality in plots either exposed to or protected from tussock moth larvae. Plants were protected from herbivory by the judicious use of insecticide; control plants were sprayed with water. Tussock moth herbivory resulted in significantly greater (31%) seedling mortality. To determine the effects of interspecific competition for light on seedling survival, I manipulated the density of grass surrounding lupine seedlings. I removed all vegetation surrounding some individuals, and left intact vegetation surrounding others. Reducing competition resulted in a 32% increase in seedling survival from February to June, as well as changes in seedling growth. To determine whether there are interactive effects of competition and herbivory on seedling survival, I enclosed tussock moth larvae on half of all surviving seedlings within each of the two prior competition treatments, comparing growth and survival of defoliated and undefoliated seedlings. Defoliation in June led to an additional 50% mortality for individuals that had grown with competitors through spring, and a 53% additional mortality for seedlings that grew without competitors through spring. Thus, although competition and herbivory both caused substantial seedling mortality, there was no statistical interaction between these factors. Competition-free plants were not less vulnerable to herbivory than plants that previously grew with competitors. Taken together, these experiments indicate that competition and herbivory are both important sources of mortality for bush lupine seedlings.

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