Do carbon-based defences reduce foliar damage? Habitat-related effects on tree seedling performance in a temperate rainforest of Chiloe Island, Chile
Carbon-based secondary compounds (CBSCs), such as phenols or tannins, have been considered as one of the most important and general chemical barriers of woody plants against a diverse array of herbivores. Herbivory has been described as a critical factor affecting the growth and survival of newly established tree seedlings or juveniles then, the presence of secondary metabolites as defences against herbivores should be a primary strategy to reduce foliar damage. We examined whether light-induced changes in leaf phenolic chemistry affected insect herbivory on seedlings of two rainforest tree species, Drimys winteri (Winteraceae) and Gevuina avellana (Proteaceae). Seedlings of both species were planted under closed canopy and in a canopy gap within a large remnant forest patch. Half of the seedlings in each habitat were disinfected with a wide-spectrum systemic insecticide and the other half were used as controls. Seedling growth, survival, and foliar damage (estimated by an herbivory index) due to insect herbivores were monitored over a period of 16 months (December 2001-April 2003). The total leaf content of phenols and condensed tannins were assessed in seedlings from both habitats. As expected, access to light induced a greater production of CBSCs in seedlings of both tree species, but these compounds did not seem to play a significant defensive role, as seedlings grown in gaps suffered greater leaf damage than those planted in forest interior. In addition, in both habitats, seedlings without insecticide treatment suffered a greater foliar damage than those with insecticide, especially 16 months after the beginning of the experiment. Canopy openness and herbivory had positive and negative effects, respectively, on seedling growth and survival in both tree species. In conclusion, despite the higher levels of defence in tree-fall gap, the higher densities of herbivore override this and lead to higher damage levels.
Quote ItemOECOLOGIA Volume: 146 Issue: 4 Pages: 555-565 Published: JAN 2006