Journal of Chemical Ecology

, 37:992 | Cite as

Plant Induced Defenses Depend More on Plant Age than Previous History of Damage: Implications for Plant-Herbivore Interactions

  • Carolina Quintero
  • M. Deane Bowers


Herbivore-induced plant responses can significantly change as a function of plant developmental stage and previous history of damage. Yet, empirical tests that assess the combined role of multiple damage events and age-dependent constraints on the ability of plants to induce defenses within and among tissues are scarce. This question is of particular interest for annual and/or short-lived perennial plant species, whose responses to single or multiple damage events over a growing season are likely to interact with ontogenetic constraints in affecting a plant’s ability to respond to herbivory. Using Plantago lanceolata and one of its specialist herbivores, Junonia coenia, we examined the effect of plant ontogeny (juvenile vs. mature developmental stages) and history of damage (single and multiple damage events early and/or late in the season) on plant responses to leaf damage. Plant responses to herbivory were assessed as induced chemical defenses (iridoid glycosides) and compensatory regrowth, in both above- and below-ground tissues. We found that constitutive concentration of iridoid glycosides markedly increased as plants matured, but plant ability to induce chemical defenses was limited to juvenile, but not mature, plant stages. In addition, induced defenses observed 7 d following herbivory in juvenile plants disappeared 5 wk after the first herbivory event, and mature plants that varied considerably in the frequency and intensity of damage received over 5 wk, did not differ significantly in their levels of chemical defenses. Also, only small changes in compensatory regrowth were detected. Finally, we did not observe changes in below-ground tissues’ defenses or biomass a week following 50% removal of leaf tissues at either age class or history of damage. Together, these results suggest that in P. lanceolata and perhaps other systems, ontogenetic trajectories in plant growth and defenses leading to strong age-dependent induced responses may prevail over herbivore-induced indirect interactions.

Key Words

Iridoid glycosides Aucubin Catalpol Ontogeny Plantago lanceolata Constitutive defenses Induced defenses Root defenses Junonia coenia 



We thank E.C. Lampert, A. Trowbridge, J. Paritsis, and S. Whitehead for valuable comments and suggestions on this manuscript. In addition, we acknowledge A. Hill, L. Mulder, E. Burke, and M. Tapy for greenhouse and laboratory assistance; and K.E. Barton for the seeds provided for this study. Funding for this project was provided by the UROP program and the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Colorado, and Dissertation Improvement Grant NSF grant DEB 0909717.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Ecology and Evolutionary BiologyUniversity of ColoradoBoulderUSA
  2. 2.University of Colorado Museum and Department of Ecology and Evolutionary BiologyUniversity of ColoradoBoulderUSA

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