Revealing an Endemic Herbivore-Palm Interaction in Remote Desert Oases of Baja California


In the Central Desert of northern Baja California, blue fan palm populations (Brahea armata) are found as isolated oases on mountaintops and along canyons with ephemeral flow conditions. Here, the effect of the interaction between the larva of an endemic moth, Litoprosopus bajaensis, and this endemic blue fan palm was documented for the first time. We registered the phenology of palms by counting the number of shoots with flowers or fruits, assessing their damage and calculating the reproductive success per individual palm within three populations: San Pedro Martir, Catavi?a, and La Libertad. Palm populations were severely impacted by this larva, causing high damage to the inflorescences. No differences were found in the number of inflorescence stems produced and damaged among study sites; but the reproductive success of palms was significantly higher in Catavi?a than in the other sites during the entire sampling period, and consequently an important proportion of stems escaped from the herbivore predation. We suggest that differences among sites may be explained by the fact that Catavi?a is the only alluvial canyon and can be considered an area of high nutrient uptake, resource availability, and rooting depths. In contrast the other two are bedrock canyons, where water runs intensely, sweeping away great portions of the nearby vegetation. Catavi?a received the highest precipitation during the winter season of 2010 allowing a continuous production of inflorescence stems and fruits. This preliminary study reveals a new endemic interaction, it occurrence at population and regional levels, and highlights the role of desert oases as resource patches and connectivity pathways for mobile insects. Finally, it also highlights the effects of different water flow dynamics and water pulses in providing an opportunity window of escape from predation for host plant species living in desert environments.

Share and Cite:

E. Wehncke, X. López-Medellín, M. Wall and E. Ezcurra, "Revealing an Endemic Herbivore-Palm Interaction in Remote Desert Oases of Baja California," American Journal of Plant Sciences, Vol. 4 No. 2A, 2013, pp. 470-478. doi: 10.4236/ajps.2013.42A060.

Conflicts of Interest

The authors declare no conflicts of interest.


[1] M. J. Crawley, “Insect Herbivores and Plant Population Dynamics,” Annual Review of Entomology, Vol. 34, 1989, pp. 531-564. doi:10.1146/annurev.en.34.010189.002531
[2] R. Karban and I. T. Baldwin, “Induced Responses to Herbivory,” The University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1997.
[3] S. M. Louda, K. H. Keeler and R. D. Holt, “Herbivore Influences on Plant Performance and Competitive Interactions,” In: J. M. Grace and D. Tilman, Eds., Perspectives on Plant Competition, Academic Press, New York, 1990, pp. 413-444.
[4] J. L. Maron and E. Crone, “Herbivory: Effects on Plant Abundance, Distribution and Population Growth,” Proceedings of the Royal Society of London, Vol. 273, No. 1601, 2006, pp. 2575-2584. doi:10.1098/rspb.2006.3587
[5] J. L. Maron and M. Vila, “When Do Herbivores Affect Plant Invasion? Evidence for the Natural Enemies and Biotic Resistance Hypotheses,” Oikos, Vol. 95, No. 3, 2001, pp. 361-373.
[6] D. Tilman and P. Kareiva, “Spatial Ecology: The Role of Space in Population Dynamics and Interspecific Interactions,” Princeton University Press, New Jersey, USA, 1997. doi:10.1034/j.1600-0706.2001.950301.x
[7] T. Tscharntke and R. Brandl, “Plant-Insect Interactions in Fragmented Landscapes,” Annual Review of Entomology, Vol. 49, 2004, pp. 405-430. doi:10.1146/annurev.ento.49.061802.123339
[8] T. Tscharntke, I. Steffan-Dewenter, A. Kruess and C. Thies, “Characteristics of Insect Populations on Habitat Fragments: A Mini Review,” Ecological Research, Vol. 17, No. 2, 2002, pp. 229-239. doi:10.1046/j.1440-1703.2002.00482.x
[9] E. Leyequien, J. Verrelst, M. Slot, G. Schaepman-Strub, I. M. A. Heitk?nig and A. Skidmore, “Capturing the Fugitive: Applying Remote Sensing to Terrestrial Animal Distribution and Diversity,” International Journal of Applied Earth Observations, Vol. 9, No. 1, 2007, pp. 1-20. doi:10.1016/j.jag.2006.08.002
[10] E. J. B. McIntire, C. B. Schultz and E. E. Crone, “Designing a Network for Butterfly Habitat Restoration: Where Individuals, Populations and Landscapes Interact,” Journal of Applied Ecology, Vol. 44, No. 4, 2007, pp. 725-736.
[11] M. F. Coombs and M. A. Rodriguez, “A Field Test of Simple Dispersal Models as Predictors of Movement in a Cohort of Lake-Dwelling Brook Charr,” Journal of Animal Ecology, Vol. 76, No. 1, 2007, pp. 45-57. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2656.2006.01188.x
[12] S. Eber, ”Bottom-Up Density Regulation in the Holly LeafMiner Phytomyza Ilicis,” Journal of Animal Ecology, Vol. 73, No. 5, 2004, pp. 948-958. doi:10.1111/j.0021-8790.2004.00867.x
[13] M. Rodeghiero and A. Battisti, “Inter-Tree Distribution of the Spruce Web Spinning Sawfly, Cephalcia abietis, at Endemic Density,” Agricultural and Forest Entomology, Vol. 2, No. 4, 2000, pp. 291-296. doi:10.1046/j.1461-9563.2000.00078.x
[14] F. Vinatier, P. Tixier, P. F. Duyck and F. Lescourret, “Factors and Mechanisms Explaining Spatial Heterogeneity: A Review of Methods for Insect Populations,” Methods in Ecology and Evolution, Vol. 2011, No. 2, 2011, pp. 11-22. doi:10.1111/j.2041-210X.2010.00059.x
[15] S. D. Fretwell, “The Regulation of Plant Communities by the Food Chains Exploiting Them,” Perspectives in Biology and Medicine, Vol. 20, 1977, pp. 421-425.
[16] S. D. Fretwell, “Food Chain Dynamics: The Central Theory of Ecology?” Oikos, Vol. 50, No. 3, 1987, pp. 291301. doi:10.2307/3565489
[17] N. G. Hairston, F. E. Smith and L. B. Slobodkin, “Community Structure, Population Control, and Competition,” American Naturalist, Vol. 94, No. 879, 1960. pp. 421-425. doi:10.1086/282146
[18] L. Oksanen, S. D. Fretwell, J. Arruda and P. Niemela, “Exploitation Ecosystems in Gradients of Primary Productivity,” American Naturalist, Vol. 118, No. 2, 1981, pp. 240-261. doi:10.1086/283817
[19] L. Oksanen, “Predation, Herbivory, and Plant Strategies along Gradients of Primary Productivity,” In: J. B. Grace and T. Tilman, Eds., Perspectives on Plant Competition, Academic Press, London, 1990, pp. 445-474.
[20] L. Oksanen and T. Oksanen, “The Logic and Realism of the Hypothesis of Exploitation Ecosystems,” American Naturalist, Vol. 155, No. 6, 2000, pp. 703-723. doi:10.1086/303354
[21] G. Oba, Z. Mengistu and N. C. Stenseth, “Compensatory Growth of the African Dwarf Shrub Indigofera Spinosa Following Simulated Herbivory,” Ecological Applications, Vol. 10, No. 4, 2000, pp. 1133-1146. doi:10.1890/1051-0761(2000)010[1133:CGOTAD]2.0.CO;2
[22] B. A. Roundy and G. B. Ruyle, “Effects of Herbivory on Twig Dynamics of a Sonoran Desert Shrub Simmondsia chinensis (Link) Schn,” Journal of Applied Ecology, Vol. 26, No. 2, 1989, pp. 701-710. doi:10.2307/2404094
[23] F. Tiver and M. H. Andrew, “Relative Effects of Herbivory by Sheep, Rabbits, Goats and Kangaroos on Recruitment and Regeneration of Shrubs and Trees in Eastern South Australia,” Journal of Applied Ecology, Vol. 34, No. 4, 1997, pp. 903-914. doi:10.2307/2405281
[24] G. A. Roth, W. G. Whitford and Y. Steinberger, “Jackrabbit (Lepus californicus) Herbivory Changes Dominance in Desertified Chihuahuan Desert Ecosystems,” Journal of Arid Environments, Vol. 70, No. 3, 2007, pp. 418-426. doi:10.1016/j.jaridenv.2007.01.009
[25] J. Tort, C. M. Campos and C. E. Borghi, “Herbivory by Tuco-Tucos (Ctenomys mendocinus) on Shrubs in the Upper Limit of the Monte Desert (Argentina),” Mammalian, Vol. 68, No. 1, 2004, pp. 15-21.
[26] T. D. Schowalter, “Insect Ecology: An Ecosystem Approach,” 2nd Edition, Elsevier, Burlington, 2006.
[27] S. M. Louda, “Distribution Ecology: Variation in Plant Recruitment over a Gradient in Relation to Insect Seed Predation,” Ecological Monographs, Vol. 52, No. 1, 1982, pp. 25-41. doi:10.2307/2937343
[28] T. E. X. Miller, S. M. Louda, K. A. Rose and J. O. Eckberg, “Impacts of Insect Herbivory on Cactus Population Dynamics: Experimental Demography across an Environmental Gradient,” Ecological Monographs, Vol. 79, No. 1, 2009, pp.155-172. doi:10.1890/07-1550.1
[29] M. Takahashi and N. Huntly, “Herbivorous Insects Reduce Growth and Reproduction of Big Sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata),” Arthropod and Plant Interactions, Vol. 4, No. 4, 2010, pp. 257-266. doi:10.1007/s11829-010-9108-1
[30] E. V. Wehncke, X. López-Medellín and E. Ezcurra, “Patterns of Frugivory, Seed Dispersal and Predation of Blue Fan Palms (Brahea armata) in Oases of Northern Baja California,” Journal of Arid Environments, Vol. 73, No. 9, 2009, pp. 773-783. doi:10.1016/j.jaridenv.2009.03.007
[31] E. V. Wehncke, X. López-Medellín and E. Ezcurra, “Blue Fan Palm Distribution and Seed Removal Patterns in Three Desert Oases of Northern Baja California, Mexico,” Plant Ecology, Vol. 208, No. 1, 2010, pp. 1-20. doi:10.1007/s11258-009-9682-4
[32] E. V. Wehncke, J. Rebman, X. López-Medellín and E. Ezcurra, “Sierra de La Libertad: A Major Transition between Two Desert Regions in Baja California, Mexico,” Botanical Sciences, Vol. 90, No. 3, 2012, pp. 239-261.
[33] R. A. Minnich, E. Franco-Vizcaino and J. M. SalazarCese?a, “Distribution and Regional Ecology of Californian Palm Oases Interpreted from Google Earth Images,” Aliso: A Journal of Taxonomic and Evolutionary Botany, Vol. 29, No. 1, 2011, pp. 1-12.
[34] J. W. Brown and D. K. Faulkner, “A New Species of Litoprosopus (Lepidoptera: Noctuidae) from Baja California, Mexico,” The Pan-Pacific Entomologist, Vol. 73, No. 2, 1997, pp. 122-126.
[35] I. Wiggins, “Flora of Baja California,” Stanford University Press, Stanford, California, 1980.
[36] R. S. Felger and E. Joyal, “The Palms (Arecaceae) of Sonora, Mexico,” Aliso, Vol. 18, 1999, pp. 1-18.
[37] F. Shreve, “Vegetation of the Sonoran Desert,” Carnegie Institution of Washington Publication 591, Carnegie Institution, Washington DC, 1951.
[38] S. H. Bullock, “Seasonality, Spatial Coherence and History of Precipitation in a Desert Region of Baja California Peninsula,” Journal of Arid Environments, Vol. 53, No. 2, 2003, pp. 169-182. doi:10.1006/jare.2002.1040
[39] W. Speidel and C. M. Naumann, “A Survey of FamilyGroup Names in Noctuoid Moths (Insecta: Lepidoptera). Systematic and Biodiversity, Vol. 2, No. 2, 2004, pp. 191221. doi:10.1017/S1477200004001409
[40] J. W. Brown, “Preliminary Assessment of Lepidoptera Diversity on the Peninsula of Baja California, Mexico, with a List of Documented Species,” Folia Entomológica Mexicana, Vol. 43, No. 1, 2004, pp. 87-114.
[41] R. Poole, “Lepidopterorum Catalogus (New Series), Fascicle 118: Noctuidae,” E. J. Brill/Flora and Fauna Publishing, Leiden, 1989.
[42] J. Dransfield, I. K. Ferguson and N. W. Uhl, “The Coryphoid Palms: Patterns of Variation and Evolution,” Annals of the Missouri Botanical Garden, Vol. 77, No. 4, 1990, pp. 802-815. doi:10.2307/2399672
[43] A. Henderson, “Evolution and Ecology of Palms,” The New York Botanical Garden Press, New York, 2002.
[44] A. Henderson, G. Galeano and R. Bernal, “Field Guide to the Palms of the Americas,” Princeton University Press, Princeton, 1995.
[45] J. P. Rebman and N. C. Roberts, “Baja California Plant Field Guide,” 3rd Edition, San Diego Natural History Museum, Sunbelt Publications, 2012.
[46] H. J. Schenk and R. B. Jackson, “The Global Biogeography of Roots,” Ecological Monographs, Vol. 72, No. 3, 2002, pp. 311-328. doi:10.1890/0012-9615(2002)072[0311:TGBOR]2.0.CO;2
[47] M. S. Seyfried, S. Schwinning, M. A. Walvoord, W. T. Pockman, B. D. Newman, R. B. Jackson and F. M. Phillips, “Ecohydrological Control of Deep Drainage in Arid and Semiarid Regions,” Ecology, Vol. 86, No. 2, 2005, pp. 277-287. doi:10.1890/03-0568

Copyright © 2023 by authors and Scientific Research Publishing Inc.

Creative Commons License

This work and the related PDF file are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.