We measured structural and chemical traits of the leaves of native, broad-leaved trees in two temperate localities [southern Ontario, Canada (34 species), and Missouri (36 species)] and one tropical locality [central Panama (samples of 21 and 23 species)] to test the hypothesis that the greater diversity of tree species and herbivore species in the tropics is associated with greater resource niche space for herbivores. Variables were leaf toughness, water content, dry mass per unit area, several structural and nutritional carbohydrates, common mineral elements, including nitrogen and phosphorus, and several defensive compounds, including tannins and alkaloids. The four samples were almost fully separable by discriminant analysis on the basis of these leaf traits. Variance in log-transformed trait values among species was lowest in the most northern sample, but did not differ significantly between Missouri and Panama. Niche space, estimated as the square root of the total variance in the log-transformed variables within each locality, varied approximately as Panama = 1, Missouri = 0.8, Ontario = 0.5. Although niche space decreases towards higher latitudes, the change does not match the ca. sixfold decrease in tree species richness or the ca. fourfold decrease in Lepidopteran species richness over the latitude range of our samples. Accordingly, tropical folivore diversity is associated with greater resource niche overlap, greater niche specialization, and/or more completely filled niches, or with variation in niche dimensions not measured in this study.
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