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Oecologia. 2006 Jan;146(4):566-71. Epub 2005 Dec 3.

Induced defense in Nicotiana attenuata (Solanaceae) fruit and flowers.

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Center for Population Biology, Department of Entomology, University of California, Davis, CA, 95616, USA.


Plants protect themselves against herbivory using a continuum of strategies, ranging from constitutive defenses to intermittent induced responses. Induced defenses may not provide immediate and maximum protection, but could be advantageous when continuous defense is either energetically or ecologically costly. As such, induced defenses in flowers could help defend relatively valuable tissue while keeping reproductive structures accessible and attractive to pollinators. Thus far, no one has demonstrated the efficacy of induced defenses against floral herbivores (florivores) in the field. Here we show that mechanical leaf damage in wild tobacco, Nicotiana attenuata (Solanaceae), reduced both flower and fruit herbivory in the field and that exogenous application of methyl jasmonate, a potent elicitor of induced responses, reduced both leaf and floral damage in natural populations. This result is consistent with a survey of damage in the field, which showed a negative relationship between leaf damage and flower and fruit damage. Although optimal defense theory predicts that induced defenses should be rare in reproductive tissues, owing to their high fitness value, our results suggest otherwise. Induced defenses in leaves and reproductive tissues may allow plants to respond effectively to the concomitant pressures of defending against herbivory and attracting pollinators.

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