The effect of predispersal seed predation by Bruchus atomarius (Bruchidae, Coleoptera) on individual performance and population dynamics of the perennial forest herb, Lathyrus vernus (Leguminosae), was investigated in 11 permanent plots over 4 years. Seed predation and parameters describing intra-specific neighbour distance, plant size, inflorescence size, flowering phenology and current and previous herbivore damage were measured on all plants. In addition, demographic information from all plots was analysed using transition matrix population models in order to estimate the influence of seed predation on population growth rates. Predispersal seed predation rates differed significantly among years. Plot averages ranged from 0 to 83.7%. However, most of the variation occurred among individuals. Within individuals there was no consistency in predation rates among years. Exposure to herbivory, plant size and flowering phenology did not affect predation rates but individuals with larger inflorescences suffered from significantly higher predation. Seed predation in L. vernus was not influenced by neighbour distances of individual plants but it was positively correlated with the average density of seeds within plots, suggesting that seed predation is density dependent at the patch level. The reduction in population growth rate due to seed predation ranged from 0 to 7.6%. The sensitivity of population growth rate to reductions in seed production varied considerably among years and plots. This variation was mainly due to differences in the reproductive value of seeds and seedlings. The intensity of seed predation over the range found was not correlated with changes in population growth rate. The results of this study suggest that the influence of external factors, like seed predation, on population growth rate largely depends on the demographic transition rates in the investigated population.
Bruchidae Insect-plant interactions Lathyrus vernusPredispersal seed predation Sensitivity of population growth rate