A whole-plant perspective reveals unexpected impacts of above- and belowground herbivores on plant growth and defense


Trade-o­ ffs between plant growth and defense are central to theoretical frameworks used to study the ecology and evolution of plant defense against herbivores. However, these frameworks, as well as the experiments designed to test them, rarely include belowground herbivores. We experimentally challenged seedlings of the tropical shrub Solanum lycocarpum (Solanaceae) with either aboveground foliar herbivores (Spodoptera caterpillars) or belowground root herbivores (the nematode Meloidogyne incognita) and measured the resulting changes in plant growth rates, biomass allocation, and the concentration of defensive terpenoids in roots and leaves. We found that plants that suffered aboveground herbivory responded with aboveground growth but belowground defense. Similarly, belowground herbivory resulted in root growth but elevated defenses of leaves. These results underscore the importance of belowground plant–herbivore interactions, and suggest that, in contrast to theoretical predictions, plants can simultaneously invest in both growth and defense. Finally, they emphasize the need for a “whole-p­ lant” perspective in theoretical and empirical evaluations of plant–herbivore interactions.

Ecology, (98), 1, pp. 70–78, https://doi.org/10.1002/ecy.1619