Neotropical Entomology

, Volume 41, Issue 5, pp 375–385 | Cite as

Species Richness and Host Specificity among Caterpillar Ensembles on Shrubs in the Andes of Southern Ecuador

  • Florian Bodner
  • P Strutzenberger
  • G Brehm
  • K Fiedler
Ecology, Behavior and Bionomics


Caterpillar ensembles were sampled on 16 species of shrubs from the family Asteraceae and the genus Piper (Piperaceae) in open and forest habitats in the Andean montane forest zone of southern Ecuador between August 2007 and May 2009. Trophic affiliations of caterpillars to the host plants were confirmed in feeding trials. Overall, species richness of herbivorous caterpillars was high (191 species across all plants), but varied strongly between ensembles associated with different plant species (2–96 lepidopteran species per shrub species). Ensembles on Piper species were characterized by low effective species numbers and high dominance of one or two species of the Geometridae genus Eois Hübner. Low species number and high dominance were also found on latex-bearing Erato polymnioides, whereas ensembles on two other Asteraceae species were far more diverse and less strongly shaped by a few dominant species. The observed diversity patterns fit well to the concept that anti-herbivore defenses of plants are the major factors regulating associated insect ensembles. Local abundance and geographic range of host plants appear to have less influence. Lepidopteran species feeding on Asteraceae were found to be more generalistic than those feeding on Piper species. We conclude that caterpillar ensembles on most, but not all, studied plant species are defined by a small number of dominant species, which usually are narrow host specialists. This pattern was more distinct on Piper shrubs in forest understory, whereas Asteraceae in disturbed habitats had more open caterpillar ensembles.


Asteraceae insect herbivores Lepidoptera Piperaceae tropical montane forest 



Jürgen Homeier and Eric Tepe identified most of the studied plant species. Cees Gielis, Gerardo Lamas, Volker Pelz and Robert Robbins helped with identification of Lepidoptera specimens, Tod Stuessy provided information on the studied Asteraceae. Brigitte Gottsberger and Martin Moder helped with generation of DNA-barcodes, Lisamarie Lehner with sample preparation. Andrea Grill, Christian H. Schulze, Melanie Tista, Christine Truxa, Fernando Cônsoli (editor) and an anonymous reviewer gave valuable comments and helped to improve the manuscript. We thank all of them for their support. Further thanks go to the collaborators of the German Research Group in Ecuador and the staff and inhabitants of the Estación Científica San Francisco. The Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft financed our project within the framework of the research group FOR 816 (Fi 547/10-1 & 10-2). The Ministerio del Medio Ambiente del Ecuador issued research permits, and the foundation Nature and Culture International (Loja, Ecuador) as well as the Universidad Técnica Particular de Loja provided logistic support and allowed access to the study area and their facilities.

Electronic supplementary material

The online version of this article (doi: 10.1007/s13744-012-0066-4) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.

Supplementary material

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Copyright information

© Sociedade Entomológica do Brasil 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Florian Bodner
    • 1
  • P Strutzenberger
    • 1
    • 3
  • G Brehm
    • 2
  • K Fiedler
    • 1
  1. 1.Dept of Tropical Ecology & Animal BiodiversityUniv of ViennaViennaAustria
  2. 2.Institut für Spezielle Zoologie und Evolutionsbiologie mit Phyletischem MuseumFriedrich-Schiller-Univ JenaJenaGermany
  3. 3.Biodiversity Institute of OntarioUniv of GuelphGuelphCanada

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