Antagonistic interactions between plants and insects are widely studied and potentially influence plant survival, distribution, community organization and ecosystem processes. Insect herbivory, although ubiquitous, remains largely undocumented for tropical plants, which are host to more and sometimes more specialized herbivores, which might inflict higher damage.We evaluated leaf herbivory in tropical plants sampled using a standardized protocol and present a conceptual framework to understand the role of florivory on flower evolution of tropical plant species. We also provide the first global estimates of herbivory levels and florivory incidence and floral area removed by florivores across biogeographic regions, taxa and functional groups. In contrast to previous assumptions, our study shows that herbivory levels for 152 tropical plants species sampled along 32 sites are higher than previously reported, reaching 12% of leaf area removed, with higher levels of herbivory for forest plants compared to open vegetation. Our global survey using published and field data collection on florivory (182 species distributed into 64 families from all continents) showed higher florivory in tropical plant species, despite significant geographic and phylogenetic biases. Caterpillars were the most common florivores mainly chewing petals of purple and yellow flowers of shrubby species, removing around 8% of floral area. Owing to the lack of standardization of the metrics used to measure floral damage, we propose standardized protocols to estimate three common metrics of florivory. Herbivory and florivory are central topics within research in the Anthropocene, an epoch characterized by widespread decreases in populations of insects’ orders that comprise both herbivores, pollinators and florivores.


Leaf damage
Floral damage

Tatiana Cornelissen

Presentation within symposium:

S-2 Plant-Insect interactions in the Anthropocene: patterns, mechanisms and challenges in the Neotropics

Revisiting herbivory and florivory in tropical plants: patterns and the importance of functional traits