Herbivore and pathogen damage on grassland and woodland plants: A test of the herbivore uncertainty principle

Stefan A. Schnitzer, Peter B Reich, Belle Bergner, Walter P. Carson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

20 Scopus citations


Researchers can alter the behaviour and ecology of their study organisms by conducting such seemingly benign activities as non-destructive measurements and observations. In plant communities, researcher visitation and measurement of plants may increase herbivore damage in some plant species while decreasing it in others. Simply measuring plants could change their competitive ability by altering the amount of herbivore damage that they suffer. Currently, however, there is only limited empirical evidence to support this 'herbivore uncertainty principle' (HUP). We tested the HUP by quantifying the amount of herbivore and pathogen damage in 13 plant species (> 1400 individuals) at four different visitation intensities at Cedar Creek Natural History. Area, Minnesota, USA. Altogether, we found very little evidence to support the HUP at any intensity of visitation. Researcher visitation did not alter overall plant herbivore damage or survival and we did not detect a significant visitation effect in any of the 13 species. Pathogen damage also did not significantly vary among visitation treatments, although there was some evidence that high visitation caused slightly higher pathogen damage. Based on our results, we question whether this phenomenon should be considered a 'principle' of plant ecology.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)531-539
Number of pages9
JournalEcology letters
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2002


  • Cedar Creek
  • Herbivory
  • Pathogens
  • Plant competition
  • Plant--animal interaction
  • Uncertainty principle


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