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Ann Bot. 2007 Jan;99(1):111-20.

Biomass allocation is an important determinant of the tannin concentration in growing plants.

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Agroscope Reckenholz-Tanikon, Research Station ART, Reckenholzstrasse 191, 8046 Zurich, Switzerland.



Condensed tannins (CTs) in the diet affect consumers in a concentration-dependent manner. Because of their importance in plant defence against herbivores and pathogens as well as their potential application against gastrointestinal parasites of ruminants in agronomy, an understanding of the seasonal dynamics of CT concentrations during plant growth is essential.


Over a vegetation period, CT concentrations in leaves, stems and roots and the biomass proportions between these organs were investigated in Onobrychis viciifolia, Lotus corniculatus and Cichorium intybus. Based on the experimental data, a model has been suggested to predict CT concentrations in harvestable biomass of these species.


During the experiment, leaf mass fractions of plants decreased from 85, 64, 85 to 30, 18, 39 % d. wt in Onobrychis, Lotus and Cichorium, respectively, and proportions of stems and roots increased accordingly. While CT concentrations almost doubled in leaves in Onobrychis (from 52 to 86 mg g(-1) d. wt, P<0.001) and Lotus (from 25 to 54 mg g(-1) d. wt, P<0.001), they were stable at low levels in expanding leaves of Cichorium (5 mg g(-1) d. wt) and in stems and roots of all investigated species. Due to an inverse effect of the increasing CT concentrations in leaves and simultaneous dilution from increasing proportions of 'CT-poor' stems, CT concentrations in harvestable biomass were stable over time in all investigated species: 62, 26 and 5 mg g(-1) d. wt for Onobrychis, Lotus and Cichorium, respectively.


As a consequence of the unequal distribution of tannins in different plant parts and due to the changing biomass proportions between them, various herbivores (e.g. a leaf-eating insect and a grazing ruminant) may find not only different concentrations of CT in their diets but also different CT dynamics during the season. For the prediction of seasonal variations of CT concentrations, biomass allocation and accumulation of none-CT plant material are likely to be as important predictors as the knowledge of CT synthesis and its regulation.

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