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MEPS prepress abstract   -  DOI: https://doi.org/10.3354/meps13187

Temporal variation of positive and negative interactions between marsh herbivores mediated by inducible changes in plant traits

Alejandro D. Canepuccia*, Daniela Alemany, Esteban Espinosa Vidal, M. Fernanda Alvarez, Oscar O. Iribarne

*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: Studies on bidirectional benefactor-beneficiary interactions between organisms have generally neglected the importance of this feedback in trophic levels other than plants. The burrowing crab Neholice granulata favors the development of larvae of the stem-boring moth Haimbachia sp. nov. within the stems of Spartina alterniflora. In our research, we evaluated whether the stem-boring moth subsequently influences crab feeding on these marsh plants. Surveys and experiments in a tidal marsh of the SW-Atlantic coast (36º 22' S) showed that at the beginning of the stem-boring moth attack, there was no difference in crab herbivory between plants with or without the stem-boring moth. However, after three and a half months, crabs foraged more on plants without the stem-boring moth than on those with the moth. Plant tissue analyses showed that there was a decrease in leaf tissue carbon concentrations of plants with the stem-boring moth. This change in the nutritional quality of leaves, caused by construction of the stem-boring moth galleries, could explain the segregation in plant use between both herbivores. Unlike allelochemical response, the non-specificity of the induced nutritional change could impair a wide variety of herbivores regardless of their feeding modes or taxonomic proximity. These effects could propagate bottom-up through the food-web, leading to more diffuse interspecific effects. Thus, here we show how the benefactor-beneficiary feedback between herbivores can be important for the maintenance of species coexistence and the functioning of communities.