Plants are the basal resource in most ecosystems, and so it is not surprising that their diversity has many repercussions for ecology, such as the diversity of animals in an ecosystem. In general, increasing diversity of plants will tend to increase herbivores, because more plant species represent more types of resources that animals can feed on. However, just the number of species is not the whole story. All plants are related to each other through evolution, and closely related ones tend to be fed on by similar communities of herbivores. This means that adding closely related species to a community will tend to add fewer new types of herbivores. If so, increasingly the amount of evolutionary history represented by a community may promote increased diversity of animals. I intend to test this hypothesis by surveying communities of arthropods that are attracted to plots planted with varying numbers of species which are related to each other by differing degrees (in collaboration with Marc Cadotte). I will also measure the amount of damage that herbivores produce in these plant communities. This project will shed light on why preserving not just species diversity but diversity of evolutionary history is vitally important.
Russell Dinnage, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of Toronto