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Ecology. 2010 Oct;91(10):3100-5.

Optimal defense: snails avoid reproductive parts of the lichen Lobaria scrobiculata due to internal defense allocation.

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Department of Ecology and Natural Resource Management, Norwegian University of Life Sciences, P.O. Box 5003, NO-1432 As, Norway.


The optimal defense theory (ODT) deals with defensive compounds improving fitness of a particular organism. It predicts that these compounds are allocated in proportion to the risk for a specific plant tissue being attacked and this tissue's value for plant fitness. As the benefit of defense cannot easily be measured in plants, the empirical evidence for ODT is limited. However, lichens are unique in the sense that their carbon-based secondary compounds can nondestructively be removed or reduced in concentration by acetone rinsing. By using such an extraction protocol, which is lethal to plants, we have tested the ODT by studying lichens instead of plants as photosynthetically active organisms. Prior to acetone rinsing, we found five times higher concentration of meta-scrobiculin in the reproductive parts (soralia) of Lobaria scrobiculata compared to somatic parts of this foliose epiphytic lichen species. At this stage, the lichen-feeding snail Cochlodina laminata avoided the soralia. However, after removal of secondary compounds, the snail instead preferred the soralia. In this way, we have successfully shown that grazing pattern inversely reflects the partitioning of the secondary compounds that have a documented deterring effect. Thus our study provides strong and novel evidence for the ODT.

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