Keystone Plants


Functional food webs are essential for the successful conservation of ecological communities, and in terrestrial systems, food webs are built on a foundation of coevolved interactions between plants and their consumers. Here, we collate published data on host plant ranges and associated host plant-Lepidoptera interactions from across the contiguous United States and demonstrate that among ecosystems, distributions of plant-herbivore interactions are consistently skewed, with a small percentage of plant genera supporting the majority of Lepidoptera. Plant identities critical for retaining interaction diversity are similar and independent of geography. Given the importance of Lepidoptera to food webs and ecosystem function, efficient and effective restoration of degraded landscapes depends on the inclusion of such ‘keystone’ plants.

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