Environment vs. Plant Ontogeny: Arthropod Herbivory Patterns on European Beech Leaves along the Vertical Gradient of Temperate Forests in Central Germany
Environmental and leaf trait effects on herbivory are supposed to vary among different feeding guilds. Herbivores also show variability in their preferences for plant ontogenetic stages. Along the vertical forest gradient, environmental conditions change, and trees represent juvenile and adult individuals in the understorey and canopy, respectively. This study was conducted in ten forests sites in Central Germany for the enrichment of canopy research in temperate forests. Arthropod herbivory of different feeding traces was surveyed on leaves of Fagus sylvatica Linnaeus (European beech; Fagaceae) in three strata. Effects of microclimate, leaf traits, and plant ontogenetic stage were analyzed as determining parameters for herbivory. The highest herbivory was caused by exophagous feeding traces. Herbivore attack levels varied along the vertical forest gradient for most feeding traces with distinct patterns. If differences of herbivory levels were present, they only occurred between juvenile and adult F. sylvatica individuals, but not between the lower and upper canopy. In contrast, differences of microclimate and important leaf traits were present between the lower and upper canopy. In conclusion, the plant ontogenetic stage had a stronger effect on herbivory than microclimate or leaf traits along the vertical forest gradient.