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Oecologia. 2003 Dec;137(4):572-7. Epub 2003 Sep 26.

Genotypic variation in growth and resistance to insect herbivory in silver birch (Betula pendula) seedlings.

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Department of Biology, University of Joensuu, P.O. Box 111, 80101 Joensuu, Finland.


If herbivory is unevenly distributed among different types of plants, or if individual plants differ in their response to herbivory, herbivores may affect seedling growth and survival, and consequently plant population structure. In this study we examined variation in resistance to insect herbivory and in growth responses to feeding among 20 silver birch (Betula pendula Roth) genotypes representing variation within a natural population. Birch seedlings were grown in dense stands in random arrangement so that seedlings of different genotypes competed with each other. On insect exposure plots natural colonization of insects was allowed, and insect removal plots were sprayed with insecticide. Resistance to insect herbivory was measured as the inverse of leaf damage, and growth responses of seedlings to feeding were determined as the change in seedling height relative to the amount of damage. Resistance varied significantly among genotypes, but growth responses to feeding did not. In fertilized seedlings, resistance correlated negatively with height, indicating a trade-off between resistance and growth. The absence of such a correlation in non-fertilized seedlings is a sign of environmental effects on the cost of resistance. Growth responses to feeding did not correlate with either resistance or growth. Nevertheless, different effects of the actual damage on height increase changed the positions of the genotypes in the size hierarchy of the experimental populations. Thus, even moderate levels of insect herbivory can change the outcome of competitive interactions between birch genotypes.

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