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Animal and plant communication at the ESA Annual Meeting
Date:8/4/2009

's no evidence that the coloration in pitcher plants is of any adaptive value for capturing prey," he says. "We don't need to assume that it has an adaptive value, or that it has anything to do with prey."

Specialists are better at avoiding predators

Insect herbivore species often specialize on the host plants that they eat, evolving adaptations to use a plant's unique set of resources. However, specialization doesn't come without costs.

"A lot of evolutionary ecologists have pondered the advantages of being a specialist, and there are presumably tradeoffs," says Michael Singer of Wesleyan University. "Specialists have a smaller resource base, but they might be better adapted to their niche."

Singer and his colleagues wondered if there could be other advantages to specialization than better utilization of host plants as food. Specialists might also be more adept than generalists, he postulated, at using their host plants for defense or refuge from predation, specifically by birds.

The team tested this idea by excluding birds from experimental plots in a temperate forest in Connecticut and surveying the density of generalist and specialist caterpillar species inside and outside the exclosures. In the exclosures, his team observed a surge in generalist density compared to natural areas. The number of specialists, however, only increased slightly. These results suggest that the bird predators were preferentially targeting generalists.

The difference is likely due to the specialists' ability to take better advantage of their host plants, says Singer. Many specialists use chemicals from their host plant's tissue to make themselves toxic. Others, like Singer's specialist caterpillars, might be more adept at camouflaging themselves by finding the best places to hide or to blend in.

Singer's experiment is the first to quantify bird predation on specialist and generalist herbivores, and he hopes
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Contact: Christine Buckley
christine@esa.org
202-833-8773
Ecological Society of America
Source:Eurekalert

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