Phenology of Plumeria alba and its herbivores in a tropical dry forest

TitlePhenology of Plumeria alba and its herbivores in a tropical dry forest
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2006
AuthorsSloan, SA, Zimmerman, JK, Sabat, AM
Date Published01/2007
Accession NumberLUQ.803

Understanding phenology in plant populations requires distinction between proximate mechanisms and ultimate (evolutionary) causation. Leaf production and abscission, flower production, and herbivory were monitored for 2 yr in a population of the stem succulent tree, Plumeria alba L. in the Guánica State Forest in southwest Puerto Rico. Dependence of phenological events on abiotic (rainfall and day length) and biotic factors (herbivore abundance/damage) was quantified to discern potential relationships. Leaf flush and flowering were not associated with periods of highest rainfall as might be expected in a dry tropical forest. Rather, these events were highly correlated with day length. We observed that most leaf flush began in March and April, which was several months before the wettest period of the year (August to November). This result is consistent with other studies that show that leaf flush in Plumeria is under photoperiodic control and that the plants initiate growth and reproduction when cloudiness is low and seasonal light availability is greatest. Herbivore damage by caterpillars of the sphinx moth Pseudosphinx tetrio is restricted primarily to the wettest season, consistent with the hypothesis that early leaf flush and reproduction has been selected to avoid herbivory. It is not clear whether photoperiodic control of leaf flush and reproduction serves to maximize seasonal light availability, minimize the impact of herbivores, or both. However, it is clear that peak rainfall is not likely to have been the sole selective factor determining leaf flush and flowering in P. alba.