Do plant density, nutrient availability, and herbivore grazing interact to affect phlorotannin plasticity in the brown seaweed Ascophyllum nodosum
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Plants have different strategies to cope with herbivory, including induction of chemical defences and compensatory growth. The most favourable strategy for an individual plant may depend on the density at which the plants are growing and on the availability of nutrients, but this has not been tested previously for marine plant–herbivore interactions. We investigated the separate and interactive effects of plant density, nutrient availability, and herbivore grazing on the phlorotannin (polyphenolic) production in the brown seaweed Ascophyllum nodosum. Seaweed plants grown at low or high densities were exposed either to nutrient enrichment, herbivorous littorinid gastropods (Littorina obtusata), or a combination of nutrients and herbivores in an outdoor mesocosm experiment for 2 weeks. Seaweeds grown at a low density tended to have higher tissue nitrogen content compared to plants grown at a high density when exposed to elevated nutrient levels, indicating that there was a density dependent competition for nitrogen. Herbivore grazing induced a higher phlorotannin content in plants grown under ambient, but not enriched, nutrient levels, indicting either that phlorotannin plasticity is more costly when nutrients are abundant or that plants responded to herbivory by compensatory growth. However, there were no significant interactive or main effects of plant density on the seaweed phlorotannin content. The results indicate that plants in both high and low densities induce chemical defence, and that eutrophication may have indirect effects on marine plant–herbivore interactions through alterations of plant chemical defence allocation.
KeywordsPlant Density Compensatory Growth Herbivore Interaction Herbivore Grazing Phlorotannin Content
We are grateful to all staff and students at the Tjärnö Marine Biological Laboratory. Financial support was provided by Wilhelm and Martina Lundgrens Vetenskapsfond, Carl Stenholms donationsfond, and MARICE (Marine Chemical Ecology—an interdisciplinary research platform at the Faculty of Science, Göteborg University, Sweden).
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