Photos from the Field: Anti-Herbivore Defenses in Cecropia

Latteman, T. A., Mead, J. E., DuVall, M. A., Bunting, C. C. and Bevington, J. M. (2014), Differences in Anti-Herbivore Defenses in Non-Myrmecophyte and Myrmecophyte Cecropia Trees. Biotropica, 46: 652–656. doi: 10.1111/btp.12163

Little is known about antiherbivore defenses in non-myrmecophyte Cecropia trees. We compare two non-myrmecophyte CecropiaCecropia sciadophylla and Cecropia tacuna—with Cecropia membranacea, a myrmecophyte. High levels of chemical defenses in young leaves and physical toughness of mature leaves compensate for the absence of mutualistic ants in C. sciadophylla. Some C. tacuna trees produce trichilia and Müllerian bodies suggesting it has lost a mutualism with ants.

 

Tara and Jenn with an immature leaf of C. sciadophylla.  As the leaves emerge from the stipules they are usually bright crimson in color and contain high levels of chemical defenses, appreciably higher than in the mature leaves.  We found high concentrations of phenolics, condensed tannins (proanthocyanidins), and protein precipitable phenolics in immature leaves.  Interestingly, we failed to detect the presence of either alkaloids or cyanogens.  (Photo J. Bevington)

Tara and Jenn with an immature leaf of C. sciadophylla. As the leaves emerge from the stipules they are usually bright crimson in color and contain high levels of chemical defenses, appreciably higher than in the mature leaves. We found high concentrations of phenolics, condensed tannins (proanthocyanidins), and protein precipitable phenolics in immature leaves. Interestingly, we failed to detect the presence of either alkaloids or cyanogens. (Photo J. Bevington)

Cecropia sciadophylla is a gap specialist in upland forests of western Amazonia.  Compared to other species of Cecropia it is relatively long lived.  We found that the mature leaves shown here are unusually tough; some even seemed brittle.   We suggest that the exceptional toughness of the mature leaves and the high levels of chemical defenses in the immature leaves of this non-myrmecophyte compensate for the absence of mutualistic ants as a defense against herbivores.  Jennifer E. Mead (on the left) and Tara A. Latteman (on the right) received SOAR awards (Student Opportunities for Academic Research) to pursue the project.  (Photo J. Bevington)

Cecropia sciadophylla is a gap specialist in upland forests of western Amazonia. Compared to other species of Cecropia it is relatively long lived. We found that the mature leaves shown here are unusually tough; some even seemed brittle. We suggest that the exceptional toughness of the mature leaves and the high levels of chemical defenses in the immature leaves of this non-myrmecophyte compensate for the absence of mutualistic ants as a defense against herbivores. Jennifer E. Mead (on the left) and Tara A. Latteman (on the right) received SOAR awards (Student Opportunities for Academic Research) to pursue the project. (Photo J. Bevington)

Saplings of Cecropia sciadophylla coming into the edge of a gap.  C. sciadophylla typically occupies treefall gaps and other disturbed sites.  (Photo J. Bevington)

Saplings of Cecropia sciadophylla coming into the edge of a gap. C. sciadophylla typically occupies treefall gaps and other disturbed sites. (Photo J. Bevington)

A grove of C. sciadophylla in a large gap along the Tambopata River in Peru.  (Photo J. Bevington)

A grove of C. sciadophylla in a large gap along the Tambopata River in Peru. (Photo J. Bevington)