New Zealand Journal of Ecology (2005) 29(1): 105- 115

Soluble carbon production by honeydew scale insects in a New Zealand beech forest

Research Article
Jacqueline R. Beggs 1,4,*
Brian J. Karl 1
David A. Wardle 2,3
Karen I. Bonner 2
  1. Landcare Research, Private Bag 6, Nelson, New Zealand
  2. Landcare Research, PO Box 69, Lincoln, New Zealand
  3. Department of Forest Vegetation Ecology, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, SE901 83 Umeå, Sweden
  4. Address for correspondence: School of Biological Sciences, Tamaki Campus, University of Auckland, Private Bag 92019, Auckland, New Zealand
*  Corresponding author

We estimated the annual production of honeydew per unit land area of beech (Nothofagus spp.) forest by measuring the amount of honeydew produced in 24 h by scale insects (Ultracoelostoma spp.) (Hemiptera: Margarodidae) every month for 2 years. We used exclosures to prevent animals (notably Vespula wasps) removing honeydew, and we compared the standing crop of honeydew inside permanently closed exclosures with that outside exclosures. Honeydew production and the number of honeydew droplets was highly variable between individual trees, tree type, position on tree, and, exclosure type, and within and between years. The amount of honeydew available outside exclosures was significantly reduced in year 2, predominantly by Vespula wasps, even though wasp density was relatively low. Sugar composition also varied between tree type and between years. Up to 5% of the sugar was glucose, with varying proportions of fructose, sucrose and oligosaccharides. The surface area of trees infested with scale insects was estimated using allometric regression relationships between tree diameter and total surface area of tree trunk and branch material. These estimates were combined with measurements of tree diameter in 10-m radius circular plots to give a production estimate of between 3500 and 4500 kg dry weight honeydew ha-1 year-1. Using this data, combined with previously published estimates of carbon uptake, it was estimated that between 6 and 8% of net primary productivity was released as honeydew. Honeydew scale insects provide large amounts of biologically available carbon in the form of soluble sugar. It is a crucial resource for the above-ground system, and probably also for the below-ground system. We conclude that scale insects have the potential to function as keystone species in these forests.