Plant ontogeny determines strength and associated plant fitness consequences of plant-mediated interactions between herbivores and flower visitors

Quint Rusman*, Dani Lucas-Barbosa, Kamrul Hassan, Erik H. Poelman

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

Abstract

Plants show ontogenetic variation in growth–defence strategies to maximize reproductive output within a community context. Most work on plant ontogenetic variation in growth–defence trade-offs has focussed on interactions with antagonistic insect herbivores. Plants respond to herbivore attack with phenotypic changes. Despite the knowledge that plant responses to herbivory affect plant mutualistic interactions with pollinators required for reproduction, indirect interactions between herbivores and pollinators have not been included in the evaluation of how ontogenetic growth–defence trajectories affect plant fitness. In a common garden experiment with the annual Brassica nigra, we investigated whether exposure to various herbivore species on different plant ontogenetic stages (vegetative, bud or flowering stage) affects plant flowering traits, interactions with flower visitors and results in fitness consequences for the plant. Effects of herbivory on flowering plant traits and interactions with flower visitors depended on plant ontogeny. Plant exposure in the vegetative stage to the caterpillar Pieris brassicae and aphid Brevicoryne brassicae led to reduced flowering time and flower production, and resulted in reduced pollinator attraction, pollen beetle colonization, total seed production and seed weight. When plants had buds, infestation by most herbivore species tested reduced flower production and pollen beetle colonization. Pollinator attraction was either increased or reduced. Plants infested in the flowering stage with P. brassicae or Lipaphis erysimi flowered longer, while infestation by any of the herbivore species tested increased the number of flower visits by pollinators. Our results show that the outcome of herbivore–flower visitor interactions in B. nigra is specific for the combination of herbivore species and plant ontogenetic stage. Consequences of herbivory for flowering traits and reproductive output were strongest when plants were attacked early in life. Such differences in selection pressures imposed by herbivores to specific plant ontogenetic stages may drive the evolution of distinct ontogenetic trajectories in growth–defence–reproduction strategies and include indirect interactions between herbivores and flower visitors. Synthesis. Plant ontogeny can define the direct and indirect consequences of herbivory. Our study shows that the ontogenetic stage of plant individuals determined the effects of herbivory on plant flowering traits, interactions with flower visitors and plant fitness.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1046-1060
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Ecology
Volume108
Issue number3
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 1 May 2020

Keywords

  • florivores
  • herbivore-induced plant responses
  • indirect interactions
  • ontogenetic trajectories
  • ontogenetic variation
  • plant defence
  • plant reproduction
  • pollinators

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