Specialization, maintenance of diversity and ecosystem consequences of growth defense trade-offs in a model system: the hyper-diverse willow communities of Cedar Creek
Experiment Id

Cedar Creek includes a diversity of habitats, which support an astonishing number of species (15) from a single evolutionary lineage: the willow family (Salicaceae). The physiological tolerances and abiotic mechanisms that maintain natural diversity in this hyper-diverse system are beginning to be understood; the role of biotic interactions, however, remains a major gap in understanding. We hypothesize that insect herbivory plays a critical role in niche partitioning, providing an important explanation for high willow diversity. Using a replicated series of common gardens and insect herbivore manipulations in resource rich and resource poor habitats, we are testing for evolved trade-offs between defense investment and growth rate. We expect specialized plant syndromes to emerge along the continuum from ???herbivore escape??? via fast growth in high resource environments to ???anti-herbivore protection??? via heavy investment in defense in low resource environments. Evolved growth/defense strategies that promote diversity are also likely to have ecosystem consequences due to foliar chemical influences on decomposition and the composition and diversity of the insect communities they support. The proposed research takes advantage of natural diversity, providing an important model system at Cedar Creek.