New shrub a hotspot for insect diversity

Katherine Blackwood

Botanists have discovered a previously unrecognized species of pepper plant in Ecuador and Peru that supports a community of 40–50 arthropods, including caterpillars, wasps, flies, ants, earwigs, beetles, and spiders. The shrub, Piper kelleyi, is in fact home to more animal species than any of over 100 other pepper plants investigated. The description of P kelleyi and its unique ecology (PhytoKeys 2014; doi:10.3897/phytokeys.34.6376) is substantiated by more than 20 years of research conducted in the Andean cloud forests and low montane rainforests where the plant occurs.

At least 11 caterpillar species may be endemic to P kelleyi, as they are almost never found on other plant species. These herbivores, which feed exclusively on P kelleyi, in turn host at least nine known and as many as 30 undescribed parasitic wasp and fly species. In addition, earwigs and ant colonies occasionally house themselves inside the sheathed…

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