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Effects of leaf age and plant life history patterns on herbivory


Current theories on plant–herbivore interactions suggest that plant species of different successional status and leaves of various ages differ in their degree of ephemerality and predictability to herbivores, and will therefore exhibit different anti-herbivore characteristics1–6. Old leaves and leaves of mature forest plants are expected to be better defended than ephemeral young leaves and leaves of early successional plants. These predicted patterns of plant defence and the resultant patterns of insect grazing are not well documented for natural communities. Field studies have shown that mammalian herbivores in a tropical forest prefer young leaves7 and that insect grazing in a temperate forest is heaviest on the young leaves8. Laboratory studies have shown that late successional species9,12 or plants with certain chemical defences13–17 are less palatable for generalist herbivores. Laboratory results depend, however, on the particular herbivore tested, and may not accurately predict rates of herbivory in natural systems. Here I report on rates of herbivory on young and mature leaves from tree species with different life history patterns. Grazing rates (% leaf area eaten per day) on mature leaves of fast growing, shade-intolerant species (pioneers) were an order of magnitude greater than those on slow growing, shade-tolerant species (persistents). Young leaves in both groups of species suffered significantly greater grazing damage than mature leaves.

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Coley, P. Effects of leaf age and plant life history patterns on herbivory. Nature 284, 545–546 (1980).

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