The Princeton Guide to Ecology

By Simon A. Levin | Go to book overview
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Interactions between Plants
and Herbivores
Rebecca J. Morris
1. The diversity of herbivores
2. Herbivore-plant population dynamics
3. The impact of herbivores on plant populations
4. Plant responses to herbivory
5. The impact of plants on herbivore populations
6. Herbivore-plant interactions at the community level

Herbivores are animals that feed on living plants. Herbivory is one of most common ecological interactions and is exhibited by species ranging from microscopic mites to giant pandas. Herbivore–plant interactions have features in common with all other consumer–resource interactions, although there are significant differences. Notably, plants do not necessarily die when they have been attacked by herbivores. Although there is no compulsory link between herbivore and plant dynamics, herbivores can affect the population dynamics of the plants on which they feed, and plants can affect herbivore population dynamics. Herbivore-plant interactions have been studied through a combination of observational time series data, mathematical modeling, and experimentation, and here a variety of examples are discussed.


functional response. Results from switching behavior when the herbivore alters the composition of its diet as a result of short-term changes in relative food availability

herbivore. An animal that feeds solely on living plant tissue

herbivory. The consumption of living plant material

host plant. The plant on which an insect herbivore feeds

numerical response. Acts by dispersal with mobile herbivores aggregating in regions of high food availability, or in the longer term by increasing reproductive success

population cycles. Changes in the numbers of individuals in a population repeatedly oscillating between periods of high and low density

population dynamics. The variation in time and space in the size and density of a population

resource. An environmental factor that is directly used by an organism and that potentially influences individual fitness; plants are a resource for herbivores


Herbivores are animals that feed solely on living plant material. They are taxonomically and ecologically diverse and range from single-celled zooplankton to wildebeest, and from leaf-mining moths to marine iguanas. They can be found in terrestrial, marine, and freshwater ecosystems. Insects and mammals are the most well-known groups of herbivores and have been studied most intensively, but there are many other types of herbivore including some species of birds, fish, reptiles, crustaceans, and molluscs.

Herbivores can feed on all the different types of living plant tissue including leaves, fruits, pollen, flowers, and seeds. Each herbivore, however, tends to specialize on a particular type of plant tissue. Herbivores exhibit a variety of feeding methods including chewing, sucking, boring, and galling. Folivores, which feed on leaves, are some of the most common herbivores and include mammals such as deer and insects such as grasshoppers. Frugivores are fruit eaters ranging from monkeys to wasps; and granivores are the seed eaters, or seed predators, including squirrels and weevils. Herbivores remove approximately 10% of net


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The Princeton Guide to Ecology
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