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Costs of herbivore resistance in clonal saplings of Betula pendula


Several studies have found genetic variation in plant resistance to herbivory. One of the explanations suggested for the observed intermediate levels of resistance are the costs of resistance, i.e., negative genetic correlations between resistance and other fitness components that may constrain the evolution of resistance. We studied the cost of herbivore resistance by investigating the genetic correlations between resistance traits and plant growth traits, and between resistance to insect and mammalian herbivores in cloned saplings of silver birch, Betula pendula. We used the performance of a geometrid moth, Epirrita autumnata, as an indicator of insect resistance. The numbers of resin droplets at the base and at the tip of the saplings correlate with mammalian resistance, and were thus used here as indicators of vole and hare resistance, respectively. We have previously observed genetic variation in these resistance traits. Further, we examined the correlations between several groups of secondary chemicals and plant growth traits. Finally, to reveal the effect of environmental factors on the trade-offs mentioned above, we investigated the correlations in saplings that were grown at two nutrient levels. We found significant negative correlations between indices of constitutive insect resistance and relative height growth in non-fertilized saplings, indicating cost of constitutive insect resistance. The two groups of secondary chemicals that have been shown to correlate strongly with constitutive insect resistance, i.e., condensed tannins and flavonol glycosides (especially myricetin glycosides), had different genetic correlations with plant traits; the concentration of condensed tannins did not correlate negatively with any of the plant traits, whereas the concentration of flavonol glycosides correlated negatively with plant height. Insect and mammalian resistance did not correlate negatively, indicating no ecological trade-offs.

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Correspondence to Pia Mutikainen.

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Mutikainen, P., Walls, M., Ovaska, J. et al. Costs of herbivore resistance in clonal saplings of Betula pendula . Oecologia 133, 364–371 (2002).

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  • Resistance to herbivory
  • Genetic correlations
  • Secondary chemicals
  • Betula pendula
  • Epirrita autumnata