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Jasmonate-induced responses are costly but benefit plants under attack in native populations

  • Ian T. Baldwin
The National Academy of Sciences
Publication Date
Jul 07, 1998
  • Chemistry


Herbivore attack is widely known to reduce food quality and to increase chemical defenses and other traits responsible for herbivore resistance. Inducible defenses are commonly thought to allow plants to forgo the costs of defense when not needed; however, neither their defensive function (increasing a plant’s fitness) nor their cost-savings function have been demonstrated in nature. The root-produced toxin nicotine increases after herbivore attack in the native, postfire annual Nicotiana attenuata and is internally activated by the wound hormone, jasmonic acid. I treated the roots of plants with the methyl ester of this hormone (MeJA) to elicit a response in one member of each of 745 matched pairs of plants growing in native populations with different probabilities of attack from herbivores, and measured the lifetime production of viable seed. In populations with intermediate rates of attack, induced plants were attacked less often by herbivores and survived to produce more seed than did their uninduced counterparts. Previous induction did not significantly increase the fitness of plants suffering high rates of attack. However, if plants had not been attacked, induced plants produced less seed than did their uninduced counterparts. Jasmonate-induced responses function as defenses but are costly, and inducibility allows this species to forgo these costs when the defenses are unnecessary.

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