Arthropod-Plant Interactions

, Volume 11, Issue 6, pp 889–899 | Cite as

Multiple plant traits influence community composition of insect herbivores: a comparison of two understorey shrubs

  • Renae J. Forbes
  • Simon J. Watson
  • Martin J. Steinbauer
Original Paper


Structural and nutritional plant traits influence the ability of insect herbivores to locate, consume and persist on their hosts yet it is uncommon for ecologists to consider how multiple plant traits influence insect community composition. We sampled herbivorous insects on two understorey shrub species common to eucalypt forests of south-eastern Australia, namely Cassinia arcuata (Asteraceae) and Daviesia ulicifolia (Fabaceae). Regression analyses were used to assess the relative influence of plant structure (canopy volume), nutritional quality (macronutrients and total phenolics) and plant productivity (leaf litter) on insect abundance and species richness. Total N content of D. ulicifolia was significantly higher than C. arcuata, while the concentrations of P, K, Ca and Mg were higher in C. arcuata. Total phenolics and leaf litter were significantly lower in D. ulicifolia compared to C. arcuata. Insect composition was similar between the two shrubs but C. arcuata supported greater abundances. Canopy volume and the macronutrients P and Ca were important predictors of insect abundance on C. arcuata, whereas canopy volume alone, but neither plant productivity nor macronutrients, influenced the abundance of insects on D. ulicifolia. Ca was an important predictor of insect species richness on C. arcuata and P was an important predictor on D. ulicifolia. By quantifying a range of plant traits, we have provided an understanding of factors likely to influence the composition of herbivorous insects inhabiting these two shrubs. Traits including leaf architecture, foliar morphology and volatile terpenoids may yet explain the greater number of insects on C. arcuata since they influence the availability of microhabitats and apparency of host plants.


Nutritional ecology Insect herbivory Community ecology Eucalyptus forests Macronutrients Phenolics 



This research was funded by a Trust for Nature Honours stipend to the first author. We thank Doug Robinson, Kelly Arbon and Kirsten Hutchinson for assisting with site selection and plant identification. Thanks to landholders for allowing access to their properties. We appreciate the efforts of Helen Olfans towards insect collection, sorting and plant preparation for analysis. Thanks to Michael Dann (La Trobe University) for analysing total phenolics and Gary Clark (AgriBio, Centre for AgriBioscience) for his assistance with plant macronutrient analyses. Leafhopper identifications were provided by Murray Fletcher (Orange Agricultural Institute), identifications of Chrysomelidae by Chris Reid (Australian Museum, Sydney), identifications of Thysanoptera by Laurence Mound (CSIRO Ecosystem Sciences, Canberra) and identifications of Psylloidea by Gary Taylor (The University of Adelaide).

Supplementary material

11829_2017_9545_MOESM1_ESM.docx (28 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 28 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Renae J. Forbes
    • 1
  • Simon J. Watson
    • 1
  • Martin J. Steinbauer
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Ecology, Environment and EvolutionLa Trobe UniversityBundooraAustralia

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