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Oecologia. 2007 Oct;153(4):913-20. Epub 2007 Jul 7.

Allocating nitrogen away from a herbivore: a novel compensatory response to root herbivory.

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  • 1Division of Biological Sciences, University of Montana, Missoula, MT 59812, USA.


Centaurea maculosa, an invasive North American plant species, shows a high degree of tolerance to the root-boring biocontrol herbivore, Agapeta zoegana. For example, infested individuals of C. maculosa often exhibit more rigorous growth and reproduction compared with their non-infested counterparts. Compensatory responses to aboveground herbivores often involve increases in leaf area and/or photosynthetic capacity, but considerably less is known about root system compensatory responses to belowground herbivory. We used a (15)N labeling approach to evaluate whether compensatory adjustments in N acquisition via changes in root morphology and/or physiological uptake capacity could explain the ability of C. maculosa to tolerate root herbivory. Root herbivory reduced whole plant N uptake by more than 30% and root uptake capacity by about 50%. Despite a marked reduction in N procurement, herbivory did not affect total biomass or shoot N status. Infested plants maintained shoot N status by shifting more of the acquired N from the root to the shoot. To our knowledge, shifting N allocation away from a root herbivore has not been reported and provides a plausible mechanism for the host plant to overcome an otherwise devastating effect of a root herbivore-induced N deficit.

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