Plant hybrid zones as centers of biodiversity: the herbivore community of two endemic Tasmanian eucalypts

T. G. Whitham, P. A. Morrow, B. M. Potts

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

136 Scopus citations


We found the hybrid zone between Eucalyptus amygdalina and Eucalyptus risdonii to be a center of insect and fungal species richness and abundance. Of 40 taxa examined, 73% were significantly more abundant in the hybrid zone than in pure zones, 25% showed on significant differences, and 2% were most abundant on a pure host species. The average hybrid tree supported 53% more insect and fungal species, and relative abundances were, on average, 4 times greater on hybrids than on either eucalypt species growing in pure stands. Hybrids may act as refugia for rare species: 5 of 40 species were largely restricted to the hybrid zone. Also, 50% of the species coexisted only in the hybrid zone, making for mique species assemblages. Although hybrids support more species and greater abundances, all hybrids are not equal: 68% of the 40 taxa examined were significantly more abundant on one hybrid phenotype than another. While herbivore concentrations on F1 type intermediates were rare, concentrations were common on phenotypes resembling backcrosses either to E. amygdalina or E. risdonii. For specialist herbivores, the hybrid phenotype most heavily utilized appears to be determined by its phenotypic affinity to its host species. Generalists exhibit an overall greater abundance on hybrids, but are less likely to utilize one hybrid phenotype over another. Mechanistic explanations for these distributions are numerous and probably species specific, but are likely to include: increased genetic susceptibility of hybrids due to hybrid breakdown; increased stress in the hybrid zone resulting in greater plant susceptibility; and a greater diversity of resources in the hybrid zone which could support more species. Seed capsule production by hybrids and their parental species is negatively correlated with herbivory. However, it is difficult to determine whether herbivores cause this pattern as hybrids may have inherently lower sexual reproduction. Laws enacted to protect rare and endangered species do not include hybrids. We argue that a re-examination of our current "hybrid policy" is warranted. Plant hybrid zones are centers of plant evolution and speciation, sources of economically important plants and potential biocontrol agents, and, as our study suggests, also provide essential habitats for phytophagous communities.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)481-490
Number of pages10
Issue number4
StatePublished - May 1994


  • Biodiversity
  • Eucalyptus
  • Hybrid conservation
  • Phenotypic affinity hypothesis
  • Plant/herbivore interactions

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


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