An Exploration of Hypotheses that Explain Herbivore and Pathogen Attack in Restored Plant Communities

Many hypotheses address the associations of plant community composition with natural enemies, including: (i) plant species diversity may reduce enemy attack, (ii) attack may increase as host abundance increases, (iii) enemy spillover may lead to increased attack on one host species due to transmission from another host species, or enemy dilution may lead to reduced attack on a host that would otherwise have more attack, (iv) physical characteristics of the plant community may influence attack, and (v) plant vigor may affect attack. Restoration experiments with replicated plant communities provide an exceptional opportunity to explore these hypotheses. To explore the relative predictive strengths of these related hypotheses and to investigate the potential effect of several restoration site preparation techniques, we surveyed arthropod herbivore and fungal pathogen attack on the six most common native plant species in a restoration experiment. Multi-model inference revealed a weak but consistent negative correlation with pathogen attack and host diversity across the plant community, and no correlation between herbivory and host diversity. Our analyses also revealed host species-specific relationships between attack and abundance of the target host species, other native plant species, introduced plant species, and physical community characteristics. We found no relationship between enemy attack and plant vigor. We found minimal differences in plant community composition among several diverse site preparation techniques, and limited effects of site preparation techniques on attack. The strongest associations of community characteristics with attack varied among plant species with no community-wide patterns, suggesting that no single hypothesis successfully predicts the dominant community-wide trends in enemy attack.