Ecological Research

, Volume 33, Issue 1, pp 205–212 | Cite as

Tree diversity has contrasting effects on predation rates by birds and arthropods on three broadleaved, subtropical tree species

  • Bo Yang
  • Bin Li
  • Yuxuan He
  • Lipeng Zhang
  • Helge Bruelheide
  • Andreas Schuldt
Original Article


Plant diversity is hypothesized to strengthen biological control by promoting top-down pressure of predators on herbivores. However, studies on the effects of plant diversity on actual predation rates are still scarce, particularly in forest ecosystems. We analyzed the effect of tree species richness, and the potential influence of neighbor tree density, on predation rates of arthropods and birds on artificial clay caterpillars in a large-scale forest biodiversity experiment in south-east China. Our study was focused on three broadleaved tree species that are frequently damaged by lepidopteran caterpillars. Predation rates were influenced by tree species richness on only one of the three tree species, on which arthropod predation increased and bird predation decreased with increasing tree species richness. Importantly, these relationships were mediated by neighbor tree density, being most pronounced when focal trees had fewer surrounding neighbor trees. Our findings indicate that low tree density reduced arthropod predator abundances and predation rates, but that negative effects of this reduction were compensated for in more diverse tree mixtures by a functionally more diverse predator community. In contrast, lower tree densities might have benefited insectivorous birds by making trees more accessible particularly in monocultures, which are often structurally more uniform and denser than tree mixtures. Overall, our results point to an important role of species-specific and density-dependent mechanisms in modifying the consequences of biodiversity loss on top-down effects in forest ecosystems. Future work should aim at separating the effects of different predator guilds and those of host diversity from host density.


BEF-China biodiversity and ecosystem function density-dependence predator trophic interaction 



We thank Xuefei Yang, Chen Lin, Sabine Both, Keping Ma and all members of the BEF-China consortium that coordinated and helped with the establishment and maintenance of the experiment. We gratefully acknowledge funding by the German Research Foundation (DFG FOR 891/1, 891/2 and 891/3), the Sino-German Centre for Research Promotion in Beijing (GZ 524, 592, 698, 699, 785, 970 and 1020), and Jiangxi Provincial Department of Education (GJJ151285). BEF-China is supported by the German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research (iDiv) Halle-Jena-Leipzig (DFG FZT 118).

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Supplementary material

11284_2017_1531_MOESM1_ESM.docx (156 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 155 kb)


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Copyright information

© The Ecological Society of Japan 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Key Laboratory of Plant Resources and Biodiversity of Jiangxi ProvinceJingdezhen UniversityJingdezhenChina
  2. 2.Institute of Biology/Geobotany and Botanical GardenMartin-Luther-University Halle-WittenbergHalleGermany
  3. 3.German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research (iDiv) Halle-Jena-LeipzigLeipzigGermany

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