Seifert, Carlo L., Jorge, Leonardo R., Volf, Martin, Wagner, David L., Lamarre, Greg P. A., Miller, Scott E., Gonzalez-Akre, Erika, Anderson-Teixeira, Kristina J., and Novotny, Vojtech. 2021. "Seasonality affects specialisation of a temperate forest herbivore community." Oikoshttps://doi.org/10.1111/oik.08265
Understanding spatiotemporal trends on insect-plant interaction networks is essential to unveil the ecological and evolutionary processes driving herbivore specialisation. However, community studies accounting for temporal dynamics in host-plant specialisation of herbivorous insects are surprisingly scarce. Here, we investigated how seasonality affects specialisation of a temperate forest herbivore community. A substantial body of literature suggests that young plant foliage tends to be more protected by defence mechanisms effective against generalist insect herbivores than mature leaves. We thus hypothesised that herbivore specialisation would be highest in the early season, when young leaves are available, and that the degree of dietary specialisation would decline with leaf maturation. To test this hypothesis, we sampled more than 4700 folivorous caterpillars associated with 16 tree species within a 0.2 ha deciduous forest stand in eastern North America. We further examined the dietary specialisation of exposed feeders versus shelter builders (e.g. leaf rollers, leaf tiers, webbers). Contrary to our prediction, we observed a significantly less specialised herbivore fauna in the early season than in the two subsequent summer seasons. We further found that the seasonal increase in specialisation was driven by a remarkable turnover in species composition rather than by shifts in guild structure or intraspecific changes in diet breadth of the herbivores. These findings run counter to the widespread belief that young leaves are less susceptible to generalist insect herbivores. Our study underscores the need to account for temporal dynamics when contrasting herbivore specialisation among sites with pronounced seasonality.