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Risk of bird predation and defoliating insect abundance are greater in urban forest fragments than street trees

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Abstract

Predation by natural enemies is important for regulating herbivore abundance and herbivory. Theory predicts that complex habitats support more natural enemies, which exert top-down control over arthropods and therefore can reduce herbivory. However, it is unclear if theory developed in other more natural systems similarly apply to predation by vertebrate and invertebrate natural enemies across urban habitats of varying complexity. We used plasticine caterpillar models to assess risk of predation by birds and insects, collected leaf-feeding arthropods, and measured herbivory in willow oak trees (Quercus phellos) in two seasons to determine how predation influenced herbivory across urban forest fragments, street trees planted near forest fragments, and downtown street trees. Predation attempts by birds and abundance of chewing folivores were greater on trees growing in urban forest fragments than downtown street trees. Bird predation attempts and herbivory levels were inconsistent for near-forest trees. Predation attempts by arthropods did not statistically vary among the three urban tree habitats. Contrary to expectations based on theory, chewing folivore abundance and herbivory were generally highest on trees growing in urban forests, the most complex habitat we studied, and the habitat where risk of bird predation was greatest. We suggest that urban forest fragments provide better habitat than other urban landscapes for both urban birds and chewing folivores by having greater habitat complexity. Therefore, basal resources, such as availability of suitable habitat, mediate top-down effects on herbivores in cities.

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Acknowledgements

This project was supported by Cooperative Agreement no. G15AP00153 from the United States Geological Survey. Its contents are solely the responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of the Department of the Interior Southeast Climate Adaptation Science Center or the USGS. Funding for this work was also provided by a Southeast Climate Adaptation Science Center graduate fellowship awarded to L.C.L. This study was funded by an Agricultural and Food Research Initiative Competitive grant no. (2013-02476) and an ARDP grant no. (2016-70006-25827 from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture to S.D.F.). The North Carolina State University Department of Entomology also contributed support for this research. We thank Michael Reiskind, Barbara Fair, Vince D’Amico, Rob Dunn, Michael Just and two anonymous reviewers for providing valuable comments on the manuscript.

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Long, L.C., Frank, S.D. Risk of bird predation and defoliating insect abundance are greater in urban forest fragments than street trees. Urban Ecosyst 23, 519–531 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11252-020-00939-x

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