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Natural Enemies & Beta-Diversity in Amazonian Forests




Agence National de la Recherche Blanc with related training grant TREBEDIV funded by IRD GuyAmazon, 2014-2016

Total Budget

800k euros

Key Personnel

  • Baraloto, PI
  • Alberto Vicentini, INPA Manaus, lead collaborator, plants
  • Paul Fine, UC-Berkeley, lead collaborator, plants
  • Heidy Schimann, INRA France, lead collaborator, fungi
  • Marc Buee, INRA France, lead collaborator, fungi
  • Melanie Roy, CNRS France, lead collaborator, fungi
  • Jerome Murienne, CNRS France, lead collaborator, insects
  • Jerome Chave, CNRS France, lead collaborator, modelling
  • Helene Morlon, ENP France, lead collaborator, modelling
  • Greg Lamarre, INRA France, lead postdoc, insects
  • Oscar Valverde, ICTB FIU, lead postdoc, fungi and plants
  • Eduardo Prata, INPA Manaus, lead postdoc, plants


Tropical plant diversity is extraordinarily high both at local and regional scales, including a significant component of beta-diversity, or the turnover in species composition across habitats and regions. Yet we still know little about the factors underlying species distributions, with more than half of all tropical plant species having been collected only once. In particular, the relative roles of biogeography, abiotic factors, and biotic factors in limiting plant species distributions remain a subject of debate. Natural enemies (both fungi and insect herbivores) have recently been shown to exert strong forces on plant community composition, and it has been hypothesized that such biotic interactions are far more important in driving plant species turnover than other environmental drivers. Alternatively, natural enemies may be important at small scales, (local diversity) but may not influence turnover at the beta scale.

The NEBEDIV project represents a comprehensive evaluation of tropical forest beta-diversity across broad geographic and environmental gradients. We will integrate not only plot level analyses of more than 100 tree communities across Amazonia but also the first characterizations of soil fungi and insect herbivore communities at this scale. Critically, we will not only examine community-level correlations between these communities across spatio-environmental scales but also characterize host specialization of fungi and herbivorous insects, building on the extensive molecular phylogenetics work and collaborations we have established in previous international projects. We believe our teams are in a unique position to make this vital contribution given the extensive infrastructure we have established in recent years.

The databases and modeling approaches we develop in NEBEDIV will contribute to an increased understanding of the factors that influence species turnover in the most diverse forests on earth. All three groups on which we focus are critically understudied in the tropics, and no attempt to date has been made to study these groups simultaneously for the same sites, especially with a well-replicated experimental design. The datasets we generate will therefore be essential for regional estimates of biodiversity, to assist policy makers to choose protected areas across the region, and to improve models of biodiversity dynamics in response to climate and land use change scenarios.

  • Objectives
    We will integrate for the first time plot level analyses of tree communities with the simultaneous characterizations of soil fungi and insect herbivore communities at the landscape and regional scale. Given that the role of natural enemies on tree diversity strongly depends on the extent to which they are specialized, we will characterize host specialization of pathogenic fungi and insect herbivores. Specifically, we will address the following questions:
    1. To what degree does the composition of natural enemy communities influence the composition of tree communities across geographic and environmental scales ?
    2. To what extent are soil pathogenic fungi and leaf-chewing herbivores host specialists in tropical tree lineages that have broad geographic and environmental distributions ?
  • Key Products
    • A permanent vegetation plot network in lowland tropical forests of South America that will permit not only spatial analyses of biodiversity as described in this project, but also eventual spatio-temporal analyses with future censuses, a critical contribution for validating predictions of global change models.
    • The most comprehensive databases in existence for three major taxonomic groups in the Amazon region – woody plants, soil fungi and insect herbivores.
    • Extensive museum collections (plant herbarium vouchers and insects) to be distributed to taxonomic specialists worldwide, with exciting opportunities for subsequent molecular investigations.
    • Improved modeling approaches for beta-diversity that will allow a better estimation of the relative influence of geographic distance, abiotic and biotic factors on biodiversity.
    • Advanced educational opportunities in biodiversity research for students in partner institutions in France and in the host countries Brazil and Peru.
    • International collaborations that will strengthen the position of the Labex CEBA as a leader in biodiversity research in tropical South America.
  • Key Words

    Tropical forests, Amazonia, biodiversity, trees, arthropods, fungi, natural enemy, plant-insect interactions, plant-fungal interactions