Effects of Seed Beetles on the Performance of Desert Legumes Depend on Host Species, Plant Species, Plant Stage, and Beetle Density

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Journal of Arid Environments



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Seeds of many arid habitat plants have a water-impermeable coat and can germinate only after being scarified. Bruchine seed beetles are important parasites of legume seeds in these environments, but their effect on germination can be unpredictable. Beetles deplete seed resources and can kill the embryo but also scarify seeds. We investigated the effects of a generalist parasite, Stator limbatus, on the germination and growth of two common legumes in the Sonoran desert, catclaw acacia (Acacia greggii) and blue paloverde (Parkinsonia florida). Feeding damage from a single larva greatly increased germination of paloverde but not acacia. This benefit was reduced if seeds were attacked by multiple larvae. Beetle-damaged seeds of both hosts germinated more quickly than did control seeds. Infestation by beetles reduced seedling size, though effects were greater for paloverde than for acacia. Our results demonstrate that the effect of S. limbatus can be highly host-specific. In addition, beetle infestation may enhance or reduce seedling recruitment, depending on the availability of other scarifying agents and the number of larvae per seed. Such contingencies make it difficult to predict the net effect of seed beetles on efforts to control invasive legume hosts or establish native hosts during aridland restoration.

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