Seasonal and diel variations in the activity of canopy insect herbivores differ between deciduous and evergreen plant species in a tropical dry forest

Published in Journal of Insect Conservation, v. 21: 667–676

Silva, J.O., Leal, C.R.O., Espírito-Santo, M.M.,  Morais, Helena C.

Publication year 2017

Colegiado de Ecologia, Universidade Federal do Vale do São Francisco - Univasf, Senhor do Bonfim, Bahia, 48970-000, Brazil

IAI Program


IAI Project crn3025


This study evaluated whether herbivorous insects can be expected to have particular adaptations to withstand the harsh dry season in tropical dry forests (TDFs). We specifically investigated a possible escape in space, with herbivorous insects moving to the few evergreen trees that occur in this ecosystem and escape in time, with herbivores presenting an increased nocturnal rather than diurnal activity during the dry season. We determined the variation in the free-feeding herbivorous insects (sap-sucking and leaf chewing) between seasons (beginning and middle of both rainy and dry seasons), plant phenological groups (deciduous and evergreen trees) and diel period (diurnal and nocturnal) in a Brazilian TDF. We sampled a total of 5827 insect herbivores in 72 flight-interception traps. Contrary to our expectations, we found a greater herbivore diversity during the dry season, with low species overlap among seasons. In the dry season, evergreen trees supported greater richness and abundance of herbivores as compared to deciduous trees. Insects were also more active at night during the dry season, but no diel differences in insect abundance were detected during the rainy season. These results indicate that the strategies used by insect herbivores to withstand the severe climatic conditions of TDFs during the dry season include both small-scale escape in space and time, with evergreen trees playing a key role in maintaining resident insect herbivore populations in TDFs. Relatively more nocturnal activity during the dry season may be related to the avoidance of harsh climatic conditions during the day. We suggest that the few evergreen tree species occurring in the TDF landscape should be especially targeted for protection in this threatened ecosystem, given their importance for insect conservation.