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University of Guam generates most read article in journal Plant Signaling & Behavior

From News : Researcher: Thomas E Marler

Adult Chilades pandava butterfly depositing eggs on Cycas leaf. The butterfly larvae will consume the leaf as food. Photo credit: Thomas Marler.

An article about the interactions between a specialist insect herbivore and the range of plants that serve as its host has emerged as the most read article in the international journal Plant Signaling & Behavior. The article entitled “Information-based or resource-based systems may mediate Cycas-herbivore interactions” was generated from a multi-institutional project led by Thomas Marler, a professor in the Western Pacific Tropical Research Center (WPTRC) at the University of Guam.

The emergence of online journal formats is a relatively recent development in the field of scientific publishing. The electronic publishing format is highly amenable to being parsed for analysis of various metrics of importance. In the past when scientific journals were published as hard copies, one could not quantify the number of times an article was viewed. But with journals that are published electronically, the number of times an article is downloaded can be tallied. This is the metric that serves as a proxy for how many times the paper has been read.

“Many of the scientific publications from Guam are purely descriptive, designed to document the status of a local ecological concept or convey the results of experiments that improve our understanding of a local phenomenon,” said Marler. While these types of articles are important for sequestering the information into the international scientific literature base so future scientists can access the information, they tend to attract limited interest from readers outside of the region. “This article was designed to illuminate the concepts that underlie the complex interactions between plant and pest that may explain why some species suffer greater damage by the pest,” said Marler. As such, the concepts readily transfer to other geographic regions where plants are forced to interact with various biological threats.

The insect of interest was Chilades pandava, a small butterfly that uses young leaves from Cycas trees as food for its larvae. The data and observations that served as the foundation for the article were collected at the Nong Nooch Tropical Botanical Garden (NNTBG) in Thailand, where more than 100 species of Cycas are under the care of Cycas expert Anders Lindström. This type of botanical setting is required to accurately compare the damage across plant species caused by the butterfly larvae. The insect invaded Guam around 2005 and the native Cycas micronesica population suffered substantially from the invasion. Marler’s motivation for the project was to better understand why the extent of damage to Guam’s Cycas species was so severe. Guam lies outside of the native range of the butterfly, but the Cycas species that are inside the native range of the butterfly do not suffer such extreme damage.

The publishing team consisted of Marler, Lindström, and entomologist Irene Terry from the University of Utah. “I am appreciative when a WPTRC scientist can attract international expertise to address a local conservation problem, especially when the outcome is a publication that is of such importance to the global community,” said Greg Wiecko. Wiecko was the administrator of the WPTRC when the research was conducted, and was responsible for enabling the project and facilitating its success.

As of October 2015, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service has listed Cycas micronesica as threatened. This 2005 butterfly invasion was one of several biological threats that caused the plant mortality that led to this listing. 

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Posted October 9,2015

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