Insect frugivore interactions : the potential for beneficial and neutral effects on host plants

Wilson, Alexsis Jane (2008) Insect frugivore interactions : the potential for beneficial and neutral effects on host plants. PhD by Publication, Queensland University of Technology.


Frugivorous insects, specialised herbivores that consume fruit and seeds, are considered detrimental to host plant fitness. Their direct link to genetic fitness via consumption of plant reproductive tissue, and their negative socioeconomic association with agriculture exacerbates their harmful status. However, empirical testing of insect frugivore effects on host plants, and ecological research on the contribution of insect frugivores to multitrophic frugivory systems, is lacking. In the current study, direct effects of a non-mutualistic, insect frugivore/host plant system were tested and results showed variable effects. Beneficial, detrimental, but predominantly neutral effects on germination and seed production were observed between the Queensland fruit fly (Bactrocera tryoni) and tomato and capsicum plants. Significant effects on seed production were unexpected because infestation occurs after seed set. It was also found that eggplant, although a recorded host of B. tryoni, is inconsistent in its ability to sustain B. tryoni larvae through to its final instar. These results confirmed a simplification and presumption associated with insect frugivore (specifically fruit fly)/host plant interactions. Larval movement, infestation-induced fruit decay, pulp removal and germination were then investigated. For all hosts (tomato, apple and paw paw), treatments infested by B. tryoni decayed significantly quicker and to a greater extent than uninfested treatments, with obvious but variable changes to the texture and appearance. The movement of B. tryoni larvae, pattern of infestation-induced decay and pulp removal was unique and host dependent for all hosts. Only seeds from infested tomato were shown to germinate during the experiment. This indicated that host fruit characteristics are responsible, in part, for variable direct effects on host plant fitness by insect frugivores. Variable direct effects between insect frugivores and host plants, combined with the more rapid decay of infested fruits is likely to have implications for seed dispersal and seed predation by a third trophic level. The characteristics of fruit that are changed by infestation by an insect frugivore were then tested for their effect on a vertebrate frugivore, to illustrate the importance of recognising multitrophic interactions and indirect effects in frugivory. Specifically, seed predating rodents were incorporated into the study and their response to infested and uninfested fruits were recorded, as well as their reaction to the changes in fruit caused by insect frugivores (i.e. texture, smell, larvae presence and sound). Apple and pear infested with B. tryoni larvae were found to attract rodents, while infested tomato and paw paw had a neutral effect on the native rats. This differed from the predominant finding in the literature, which was a deterrent effect on avian seed dispersers. Vertebrate response to fruit infested with insect frugivores therefore, is variable. Assessing the indirect effect of insect frugivores on host plant fitness by attracting or deterring another trophic level requires knowledge of the direct effect between the introduced trophic level and the host plant. For example, the attraction of a seed predator may be as detrimental to host plant fitness as the deterrence of a seed disperser. This illustrates the complexity associated with assessing insect frugivore effects on host plant fitness. Results also indicated that differences in pulp texture, caused by infestation, have a significant effect on rodent preference for infested or uninfested treatments. Pulp texture is likely to effect rodent foraging efficiency, whereas the presence of B. tryoni larvae was observed to be inconsequential to rodent response to fruits. For rodents, and indeed any trophic level motivated by foraging efficiency, this finding raises the issue that for long lived fruiting plants, outside factors such as food abundance and competition for food, may cause a variable response to fruits infested by insect frugivores. From these investigations it has become apparent that insect frugivores are not consistently harmful to host plant fitness, as suggested by their negative stigma, but are likely to contribute variable effects, directly and indirectly, on multiple components of plant fitness and multitrophic frugivory systems.

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ID Code: 17023
Item Type: QUT Thesis (PhD by Publication)
Supervisor: Clarke, Anthony & Fuller, Susan
Keywords: Bactrocera tryoni, frugivory, host plant fitness, fitness components, insect frugivore, vertebrate frugivore, multitrophic interactions, indirect effects, direct effects, novel systems, beneficial herbivory, larval movement, decay, pulp removal, seed predator, seed disperser
Divisions: Past > Schools > Biogeoscience
Past > QUT Faculties & Divisions > Faculty of Science and Technology
Institution: Queensland University of Technology
Deposited On: 18 Dec 2008 05:02
Last Modified: 28 Oct 2011 19:51

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