Gall-forming insect species richness along a non-scleromorphic vegetation rainfall gradient in South Africa: The importance of plant community composition

Ruan Veldtman, M. A. McGeoch

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Abstract

Currently there is no single accepted hypothesis to explain gall-forming insect species richness at a particular locality. Hygrothermal stress, soil nutrient availability, plant species richness, plant structural complexity, plant family or genus size, and host plant geographical range size have all been implicated in the determination of gall-forming insect species richness. Previous studies of such richness at xeric sites have included predominantly scleromorphic vegetation, usually on nutrient-poor soils. This study is the first to investigate gall-forming insect species richness of xeric, non-scleromorphic vegetation. Two habitat types were sampled at each of five localities across a rainfall gradient in the savanna biome of South Africa. The habitat types differed with respect to plant species composition and topography. Gall-forming insect species richness did not increase with increasing hygrothermal stress or decreasing soil fertility. Rather, gall-forming insect species richness was largely dependent on the presence of Terminalia sericea as well as other members of the Combretaceae and Mimosaceae. Plots where all these taxa were present had the highest gall-forming insect species richness, up to 15 species, whereas plots with none of these taxa had a maximum of four galling-insect species. Despite herb, shrub and tree strata not differing in gall-forming insect species richness, insect galls were more common on woody than non-woody plants. Also, stem galls were more frequent than apical or leaf galls. An alternative hypothesis to explain local gall-forming insect species richness is suggested: galling insects may preferentially select those plant species with characteristics such as chemical toxicity, mechanical strength, degree of lignification or longevity that can be manipulated to benefit the galler. Thus plant community composition should be considered when attempting to explain gall-forming insect species richness patterns.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-13
Number of pages13
JournalAustral Ecology
Volume28
Issue number1
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2003
Externally publishedYes

Keywords

  • Gall-forming insects
  • Hygrothermal stress
  • Plant architecture
  • Savanna
  • Soil fertility
  • Species richness patterns

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