1. Pre-dispersal predation of seeds by insects can be an important source of plant mortality, with consequences for plant population dynamics and community diversity. 2. The intensity and host-specificity of natural enemies, including seed predators, is predicted to vary systematically across environmental gradients. These trends could contribute to large-scale patterns in diversity, such as the widely observed positive relationship between plant species richness and precipitation. However, fundamental information on inter- and intraspecific seed predation is lacking at the landscape scale. 3. We assessed the intensity of seed predation by insects at eight forest sites spanning a steep precipitation and plant species-richness gradient in Panama. We dissected freshly abscised fruits and seeds of woody plants to measure rates of predation, and assessed host-specificity by rearing insects from them. 4. On average, 22.6% of dissected seeds were predated across 31 host species. Species-specific and site-level seed predation rates and the number of seed predator species reared per host were not significantly associated with annual rainfall or dry season water deficit. 5. In total, 45 seed predator morphospecies were reared from seeds of 16 plant species. Host-specificity was high, with 91% of seed predator morphospecies associated with just one plant species. 6. Our results support evidence that pre-dispersal insect seed predators are highly host-specific and exhibit great intraspecific, interspecific and landscape-scale (i.e. between-site) variation in seed predation intensity. Host-specific seed predators, particularly those causing moderate to high seed predation rates, could influence plant population dynamics and local community structure.
- community diversity
- natural enemies