Caterpillars a Keystone Food Source

We all love our butterflies because of their beauty and the services they perform as pollinators. Even though a given butterfly is unlikely to be an efficient pollinator, the sheer number of butterflies and moths result in a significant pollinator contribution.

So it may be surprising to learn that caterpillars are a star for a very different reason: “caterpillars transfer more energy from plants to other animals than all other herbivores combined

Chewing insects, such as caterpillars, are at a higher risk of exposure to toxic chemicals because of their feeding method.

Caterpillars are also prone to specialize to a single host plant, so preserving these plants is critical to their survival.

“… a small percentage of the plant lineages within a region support larval development in the vast majority of resident Lepidoptera. We call such hyper-productive plants “keystone genera””

The top 5 genera identified by Douglas W. Tallamy et al are:

  • Quercus (Oaks)
  • Salix (Willows)
  • Prunus (Cherries, Plums, Peaches)
  • Pines
  • Populus (Poplars, Aspens, Cottonwoods)

Read the full Nature article here

A related UDaily Powerhouse Plants article here

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