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Correlations between physical and chemical defences in plants: tradeoffs, syndromes, or just many different ways to skin a herbivorous cat?


Moles, AT and Peco, B and Wallis, IR and Foley, WJ and Poore, AGB and Seabloom, EW and Vesk, PA and Bisigato, AJ and Cella-Pizarro, L and Clark, CJ and Cohen, PS and Cornwell, WK and Edwards, W and Ejrnaes, R and Gonzales-Ojeda, T and Graae, BJ and Hay, G and Lumbwe, FC and Magana-Rodriguez, B and Moore, BD and Peri, PL and Poulsen, JR and Stegen, JC and Veldtman, R and Zeipel, H and Andrew, NR and Boulter, SL and Borer, ET and Cornelissen, JHC and Farji-Brener, AG and DeGabriel, JL and Jurado, E and Kyhn, LA and Low, B and Mulder, CPH and Reardon-Smith, K and Rodriguez-Velazquez, J and De Fortier, A and Zheng, Z and Blendinger, PG and Enquist, BJ and Facelli, JM and Knight, T and Majer, JD and Martinez-Ramos, M and McQuillan, P and Hui, FKC, Correlations between physical and chemical defences in plants: tradeoffs, syndromes, or just many different ways to skin a herbivorous cat?, New Phytologist, 198, (1) pp. 252-263. ISSN 0028-646X (2013) [Refereed Article]

Copyright Statement

copyright 2013 The Authors New Phytologist Copyright 2013 New Phytologist Trust

DOI: doi:10.1111/nph.12116


  • Most plant species have a range of traits that deter herbivores. However, understanding of how different defences are related to one another is surprisingly weak. Many authors argue that defence traits trade off against one another, while others argue that they form coordinated defence syndromes.
  • We collected a dataset of unprecedented taxonomic and geographic scope (261 species spanning 80 families, from 75 sites across the globe) to investigate relationships among four chemical and six physical defences.
  • Five of the 45 pairwise correlations between defence traits were significant and three of these were tradeoffs. The relationship between species' overall chemical and physical defence levels was marginally nonsignificant (P=0.08), and remained nonsignificant after accounting for phylogeny, growth form and abundance. Neither categorical principal component analysis (PCA) nor hierarchical cluster analysis supported the idea that species displayed defence syndromes.
  • Our results do not support arguments for tradeoffs or for coordinated defence syndromes. Rather, plants display a range of combinations of defence traits. We suggest this lack of consistent defence syndromes may be adaptive, resulting from selective pressure to deploy a different combination of defences to coexisting species.
  • Item Details

    Item Type:Refereed Article
    Keywords:cyanogenisis, extrafloral nectaries, hair, leaf toughness, lipid, plant-herbivore interactions, spines, tannin
    Research Division:Biological Sciences
    Research Group:Plant biology
    Research Field:Plant physiology
    Objective Division:Expanding Knowledge
    Objective Group:Expanding knowledge
    Objective Field:Expanding knowledge in the biological sciences
    UTAS Author:McQuillan, P (Mr Peter McQuillan)
    ID Code:89409
    Year Published:2013
    Web of Science® Times Cited:97
    Deposited By:Geography and Environmental Studies
    Deposited On:2014-03-04
    Last Modified:2017-11-01

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