Floral plasticity: Herbivore-species-specific-induced changes in flower traits with contrasting effects on pollinator visitation

Quint Rusman*, Erik H. Poelman, Farzana Nowrin, Gerrit Polder, Dani Lucas-Barbosa

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

57 Citations (Scopus)


Plant phenotypic plasticity in response to antagonists can affect other community members such as mutualists, conferring potential ecological costs associated with inducible plant defence. For flowering plants, induction of defences to deal with herbivores can lead to disruption of plant–pollinator interactions. Current knowledge on the full extent of herbivore-induced changes in flower traits is limited, and we know little about specificity of induction of flower traits and specificity of effect on flower visitors. We exposed flowering Brassica nigra plants to six insect herbivore species and recorded changes in flower traits (flower abundance, morphology, colour, volatile emission, nectar quantity, and pollen quantity and size) and the behaviour of two pollinating insects. Our results show that herbivory can affect multiple flower traits and pollinator behaviour. Most plastic floral traits were flower morphology, colour, the composition of the volatile blend, and nectar production. Herbivore-induced changes in flower traits resulted in positive, negative, or neutral effects on pollinator behaviour. Effects on flower traits and pollinator behaviour were herbivore species-specific. Flowers show extensive plasticity in response to antagonist herbivores, with contrasting effects on mutualist pollinators. Antagonists can potentially act as agents of selection on flower traits and plant reproduction via plant-mediated interactions with mutualists.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1882-1896
JournalPlant Cell and Environment
Issue number6
Early online date18 Jan 2019
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2019


  • Brassica nigra (black mustard)
  • flower colour
  • flower morphology
  • flower rewards
  • flower volatiles
  • herbivore-induced plant responses
  • phenotypic plasticity
  • plant defence
  • plant-mediated interactions
  • specificity


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