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Human impact on tropical taxonomic, genetic, phytochemical, and plant-insect interactions diversity


The study of biodiversity should be understood not only as the documentation of the taxonomic, chemical, and genetic diversity of organisms, but it should comprise the understanding of how these distinct levels of diversity support ecosystem function and respond to natural and anthropogenic environmental changes. Most of the planet's total biodiversity is composed of plants and insects in tropical areas. These taxa are the focus of this project also because plants serve as the basis of an ecosystem, and insects (i.e., herbivores and their natural enemies) serve as sensitive reporters of climate change. The São Paulo City Green Belt Biosphere Reserve stretches from the coast to inland areas of the state of São Paulo, covering remote remnants of the Atlantic Forest, a hotspot of biodiversity and endemism, as well as around 10% of the Brazilian population. This project deepens results produced by the Institutional Research Development Plan at the Institute of Botany concerning this area and aims to map and test the relationships among distinct levels of diversity along anthropogenic gradients of urbanization at a local scale in and around the belt using Piper plants and their multitrophic interactions with insects. The prediction is that, upon high levels of temperature and pollutants, plant communities become less phytochemically diverse and associated with a lower insect diversity, of predominantly generalist herbivores - without necessarily incurring in lower plant taxonomic and genetic diversity. An original technical aspect of this project in the survey of phytochemical diversity is the use of induced plant responses and the sampling of volatile compounds upon their emission by leaves under realistic field conditions. In the field, genetic and phytochemical diversity will be tested, while herbivory, predation and parasitoidism are estimated. In the laboratory, the role of the phytochemical dissimilarities found between sites will be investigated, and the effects of predictions of future climate change will be evaluated on plant-herbivore-parasitoid performance. Therefore, the results of this project should establish a new line of research at the Institute of Botany, one that explores distinct dimensions of diversity as estimates of ecosystem quality, identifying and challenging local adaptations by temperature and CO2 rises predicted up to 2080, that will help us understand the impact that the next 60 years will have on what took 60 million years to evolve. (AU)

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