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Evolution. 2000 Jun;54(3):778-88.

Evolutionary ecology of the tropane alkaloids of Datura stramonium L. (Solanaceae).

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  • 1Department of Ecology and Evolution, University of Chicago, Illinois 60637, USA.


Although insect herbivory is frequently assumed to be responsible for the maintenance of plant secondary metabolites such as alkaloids, the assumption is controversial and experimental evidence for this assumption is sparse. We examined natural selection on the two major alkaloids present in the leaves of Datura stramonium and found that both alkaloids came under active selection. We found negative directional selection for scopolamine (natural selection acting to reduce scopolamine levels) and stabilizing selection for hyoscyamine (natural selection acting to maintain an intermediate level of hyoscyamine). We also present evidence that insect herbivores act as the agents of selection on these alkaloids. Finally, we show that there were no trade-offs in resistance to different species of insects.

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