Ferrante, M., Möller, D.M., Möller, G.M., Lubin, Y., Segoli, M. (2020) Seed predation on oil-polluted and unpolluted Vachellia (Acacia) trees in a hyper-arid desert ecosystem.Insects, 11(10), 665. DOI:10.3390/insects11100665 (IF2019 2,220; Q1 Entomology)
Acacia trees are keystone species in many arid environments, supporting high levels of plant and animal diversity. In Israel, the populations of Vachellia (formerly Acacia) tortilis (Forssk.) and V. raddiana (Savi) are declining at an alarming rate. Severe infestations by bruchid beetles (Coleoptera, Chrysomelidae) are among the major causes of seed mortality, but additional environmental stressors can reduce the defence level of the seeds, exacerbating their susceptibility to predators. In a hyper-arid desert ecosystem affected by two major oil spills (in 1975 and 2014), we quantified seed predation rates caused by insect granivores before and after the pods dropped to the ground. We recorded predation rates of up to 84% for both tree species, and higher predation rates at the ground level than in the canopy, suggesting that repeated infestations occur. These results reinforce the call to protect the populations of large ungulates such as gazelles, which kill the bruchids by feeding upon the pods, and promote seed germination and dispersion. We found no clear evidence of a negative effect of the oil spill on seed predation, indicating that oil pollution did not increase the vulnerability of the seeds to granivores even in trees affected by the recent oil spill.